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The Role of Ideas in the Civil Rights South

The Role of Ideas in the Civil Rights South

Tony Badger
David L. Chappell
Elizabeth Jacoway
Richard H. King
Ralph E. Luker
Charles Marsh
Keith D. Miller
Linda Reed
Lauren F. Winner
Edited by Ted Ownby
Copyright Date: 2002
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    The Role of Ideas in the Civil Rights South
    Book Description:

    With essays by Tony Badger, David L. Chappell, Elizabeth Jacoway, Richard H. King, Ralph E. Luker, Charles Marsh, Keith D. Miller, Linda Reed, and Lauren F. Winner

    In the 1950s and 1960s the American South was in upheaval. Brilliant thinkers and writers joined on-the-ground activists to challenge segregation and the South's long established Jim Crow society. The men and women who opposed them waged a war of words in favor of the status quo.

    The essays inThe Role of Ideas in the Civil Rights Southexamine the interplay of thought and action in a complex and turbulent moment in American history. Written by scholars in history, English, and religious studies, these essays explore ideas about religion, freedom, race, liberalism, and conservatism.

    When people challenged authority, or defended it, what ideas did they uphold? What were their moral and intellectual standards? What language did they use, and what sources did they cite? What issues did they feel needed explaining, what issues did they take for granted, and what issues did they avoid?

    Leading scholars investigate the wide range of conceptions, interpretations, and responses to the whirlwind of change. Some of the essays concentrate on intellectuals who were systematic thinkers who published their work to be studied, analyzed, and used. Four essays center on the ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr., surely the most influential southern intellectual in the 1950s and 1960s. Other essays analyze the thoughts of people, such as civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and segregationist politician Jim Johnson, who never saw themselves as intellectuals.

    The civil rights movement set the agenda for thought and action in the 1950s and 1960s.The Role of Ideas in the Civil Rights Southbegins by examining ideas prominent in the movement. It then studies the ideas of white moderates in the South, white conservatives, and African Americans who did not join the movement. Particular emphases include the relationship between theology and political life, the national and international contexts of southern thought, and the variety of southern intellectual interests.

    Ted Ownby is a professor of history and southern studies at the University of Mississippi. His books includeAmerican Dreams in Mississippi: Consumers, Poverty, and Culture, 1830-1998(1999) andSubduing Satan: Religion, Recreation, and Manhood in the Rural South, 1865-1920(1990).

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-695-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-2)

    Our primary images of the American South in the 1950s and 1960s concern vivid struggles over power. Some of those struggles took place in the streets, some in the courts, some in legislatures, some in schools. Our images involve protest and counter-protest, demands to be heard and refusals to acknowledge those demands, marches and violence, heroism and stubborn resistance to change.

    We tend to think more about people acting than people thinking. How can we understand how people connected thought and action? The essays in this collection examine ideas and the roles they played in the South in the civil...

  5. Niebuhrisms and Myrdaleries: The Intellectual Roots of the Civil Rights Movement Reconsidered
    (pp. 3-18)

    I am going to discuss two things:

    (1) American liberalism’s principal weakness, as described by the most sensitive and articulate liberals of the mid-20th century: that it could not by its nature inspire the solidarity and sacrifice needed to win its own goals.

    (2) The extra-liberal, even anti-liberal, quality of the ideas that made the civil rights movementmoveout of the black churches, into the streets, and into the laws, constitution, social structure, and culture of the country (and much of the rest of the world)—achieving something like liberalism’s goals by other means and other inspiration.

    I am...

  6. The Civil Rights Movement as Theological Drama
    (pp. 19-38)

    In this paper, I ask what a theological analysis of the civil rights movement might look like and how such an analysis might open up an interpretive framework within which scholars and activists could learn new lessons from the period. A good place to begin is with a basic question. I raise the question—which may at first appear slightly crude in its formulation—as a way of clarifying the two contrasting fields of discourse available to us. Did the church people in the movement believe what they said about God or did they use religion as an opiate of...

  7. Kingdom of God and Beloved Community in the Thought of Martin Luther King, Jr.
    (pp. 39-54)

    Martin Luther King, Jr., is more closely associated with language about the “beloved community” than any other preacher or public intellectual in the twentieth century. Indeed, two scholars argue that it was “the organizing principle” of his public ministry, the “capstone” of his thought. “The centrality of the ‘Beloved Community’ in King’s intellectual concerns,” they argue, “is demonstrated by the fact that it can be traced from his earliest addresses and articles to his latest writings and public speeches.”¹ Some themes or ideas can be traced from King’s earliest through his last addresses and articles. His ultimate hope for the...

  8. Beacon Light and Penumbra: African American Gospel Lyrics and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream”
    (pp. 55-68)

    Before James Farmer founded the Congress of Racial Equality and led the Freedom Rides, he earned a master’s degree in religion at Howard University. There he studied with Benjamin Mays and Howard Thurman, who later served as two of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most important mentors. Like Mays and Thurman, Farmer’s father was an ordained minister. The senior Farmer had completed a Ph.D. in religion at Boston University, where, years later, King also graduated with a Ph.D. in religion.

    Yet, when James Farmer graduated from Howard, despite his rich religious background and training, he declined to be ordained as a...

  9. Fannie Lou Hamer: New Ideas for the Civil Rights Movement and American Democracy
    (pp. 69-82)

    At the time of Fannie Lou Townsend’s birth into the world, America had been involved in World War I for a little over a year. A war that was fought to make the world safe for democracy did not mean the same for Fannie Lou Townsend, her family and all other African Americans in the United States. As sharecroppers, the Townsends lived under desperate circumstances in Mississippi. Like other black people, they would remain second-class citizens, but their baby daughter would become a freedom fighter to include all Americans in democracy.¹

    Born Fannie Lou Townsend to James Lee Townsend, a...

  10. “Closet Moderates”: Why White Liberals Failed, 1940–1970
    (pp. 83-112)

    Kerr Scott was the most liberal governor of North Carolina of the twentieth century. He was elected in 1948 in an upset victory over the State Treasurer, Charles Johnson. The blunt uncompromising Scott campaigned for his “branchhead boys”—isolated rural voters who lived not at the heads of the rivers but at the ends of the tributaries—and against “lawyer-business” rule. Johnson was supported by most members of the General Assembly, and by most state officials and county commissioners. Scott put together a coalition of lower-income, especially rural, whites and blacks to defeat him. For the first time for years,...

  11. The Struggle Against Equality: Conservative Intellectuals in the Civil Rights Era, 1954–1975
    (pp. 113-136)

    If any single issue has “belonged” to post-World War II American liberalism, it is race. In domestic politics, the Democratic Party became the party of racial liberalism and the home base of African Americans, while the Republican Party, once the party of Lincoln and abolitionism, saw its black support all but disappear by the end of the 1960s. Indeed, post-war liberalism, particularly in the South, was defined largely in terms of its civil rights commitment. Internationally, the post-war, moral-legal consensus on race and ethnicity represented a triumph for what might be called liberal universalism in the aftermath of the Holocaust...

  12. Jim Johnson of Arkansas: Segregationist Prototype
    (pp. 137-156)

    In Arkansas they called him Justice Jim. He was the last of a long line of colorful Arkansas political characters, displaced in an era of television by the more bland and sophisticated David Pryors, Dale Bumpers’s and Bill Clintons. His Mama gave him the middle name Douglas, because as he says “she was in love with Douglas Fairbanks”; and some of the movie star’s aura clung to the boy from Crossett who blew into Arkansas politics on the charged winds of the Dixiecrat movement.¹

    In 1948 Jim Johnson was twenty-three and a newly-established lawyer in his home town in south...

  13. Doubtless Sincere: New Characters in the Civil Rights Cast
    (pp. 157-170)

    With each new book on civil rights, the movement’s dramatis personae grows larger. The old cast of black heroes still has center stage, but supporting actors who used to be walk-ons now have speaking parts. We know about gentleman segregationists like James J. Kilpatrick and Ku Kluxers like Sam Bowers. We can read about white liberal black sheep like Virginia Durr and moderate ministers like Episcopal Bishop Charles Carpenter.¹ Scholars, in other words, recognize that to speak of “the white experience” of the civil rights movement is absurd; “the white South,” after all, comprised George Wallace and Casey Hayden and...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 171-206)
  15. Contributors
    (pp. 207-208)
  16. Index
    (pp. 209-219)