Massive Resistance and Media Suppression: The Segregationist Response to Dissent during the Civil Rights Movement

By David J. Wallace | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
The Decline of Massive Resistance

Prior to the 1954 Brown ruling and the civil rights movement, whites and blacks in the South lived in an environment largely insulated from the rest of the nation on matters of racial progress and equality. Despite the Civil War and reconstruction, segregation and white supremacy continued to reign supreme and were both reflected as well as perpetuated in the southern power structure and culture. The separation of the races was viewed as common sense and natural for many, and the ideology and myths behind southern whites’ control had for decades gone largely unchallenged, establishing the consensus that supported the hegemonic power of segregationists and white supremacists. However, the Brown ruling marked the beginning not only of an assault on segregation, but also on the ideology and myths that sustained it. The movement that followed repeatedly challenged the beliefs and arguments that had necessitated segregated facilities and defended African-American subjugation.

African Americans in the South no longer accepted their role as second-class citizens and, once exposed to the brutalities of segregation, national public opinion also turned against the “southern way of life.” However, in response to these challenges, the transition from consensus to coercion emerged as the South descended into a decade of massive resistance. The “iron times” of which Stuart Hall wrote became a reality for the South. As the coordinated defense of segregation developed, extremism pushed moderation to the fringes and segregationist leaders sought to prevent integration at all costs. As many southerners tried to protect the ideologies and myths behind segregation, dissent on the issue of civil rights and massive resistance became anathema in many parts of the South. In attempts to silence

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