Politics, Society, and the Klan in Alabama, 1915-1949

By Glenn Feldman | Go to book overview

II
1930s Causes Célèbres Scottsboro and Hugo Black

During the 1930s Alabama was one of the most repressive spots in America. Many observers have persisted in believing that nothing much happened in the state during the 1930s, but poverty and political oppression dominated the decade. Like people elsewhere, Alabamians starved. Poverty, heartache, misery, and despair accompanied the hard times. Farm families endured a seemingly inexorable downward shift in mobility as they had for over a half century prior to 1929. As the economy lurched to a standstill, urban workers in the industrial center of Birmingham and the mill towns of north Alabama joined the agricultural workers.1

Much else occurred. The Ku Klux Klan persisted and, on occasion, even thrived under profoundly adverse conditions. A north Alabama rape case, that of the "Scottsboro Boys," mesmerized human and civil rights defenders the world over as its drama unfolded in a Decatur courtroom. The case and its subplots cast a dark pall over the state throughout the decade.2

Other events contributed to the state's growing reputation for infamy. Federal officials pinpointed Birmingham as the city in America hardest hit by the depression. In 1930, the paralyzed industrial giant became home to the southern branch of the Communist Party and its official party organ. Alabama sharecroppers erupted in protest against the medieval conditions under which they labored and lived. Community, landlord, vigilante, and government backlash against the croppers was so excessive that Alabama's Black Belt became a magnet for international criticism. The nation's single largest industrial conflict, hatched in the textile centers of north Alabama, eventually engulfed over 400,000 workers across the country. A series of shocking incidents, gothic in their horror, disgusted a nation and caused

-219-

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Politics, Society, and the Klan in Alabama, 1915-1949
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Origins of the Revised Klan 11
  • 2 - The Civic, Educational, and Progressive Klan 21
  • 3 - The Moral and Religious Klan 37
  • 4 - The Racist and Nativist Klan 51
  • 5 - The Political Klan 63
  • 6 - The Year of the Whip 92
  • 7 - Elite War on the Klan 116
  • 8 - Limits of the Oligarchy's Campaign 137
  • 9 - Race Over Rum, Romans, and Republicans 160
  • 10 - Disloyalty, Revenge, and the End of an Era 193
  • 11 - 1930s Causes Celebres Scottsboro and Hugo Black 219
  • 12 - The Threat of Urban Radicalism 238
  • 13 - Farm, Factory, and Hooded Persistence 259
  • 14 - World War II and Postwar Alabama 285
  • 15 - Federal-State Interaction in the 1940s 305
  • Epilogue "To Wither Away" 325
  • Abbreviations 329
  • Notes 335
  • Bibliography 399
  • Index 427
  • About the Author 458
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