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Entangled by White Supremacy

Entangled by White Supremacy: Reform in World War I-era South Carolina

Janet G. Hudson
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 400
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    Entangled by White Supremacy
    Book Description:

    Despite its significance in world and American history, the World War I era is seldom identified as a turning point in southern history, as it failed to trigger substantial economic, political, or social change in the South. Yet in 1917, black and white reformers in South Carolina saw their world on the brink of momentous change. In a state politically controlled by a white minority, the war era incited oppositional movements. As South Carolina's economy benefited from the war, white reformers sought to use their newfound prosperity to better the state's education system and economy and to provide white citizens with a better standard of living. Black reformers, however, channeled the feelings of hope instilled by a war that would "make the world safe for democracy" into efforts that challenged the structures of the status quo. In Entangled by White Supremacy: Reform in World War I--era South Carolina, historian Janet G. Hudson examines the complex racial and social dynamics at play during this pivotal period of U.S. history. With critical study of the early war mobilization efforts, public policy debates, and the state's political culture, Hudson illustrates how the politics of white supremacy hindered the reform efforts of both white and black activists. The World War I period was a complicated time in South Carolina -- an era of prosperity and hope as well as fear and anxiety. As African Americans sought to change the social order, white reformers confronted the realization that their newfound economic opportunities could also erode their control. Hudson details how white supremacy formed an impenetrable barrier to progress in the region. Entangled by White Supremacy explains why white southerners failed to construct a progressive society by revealing the incompatibility of white reformers' twin goals of maintaining white supremacy and achieving progressive reform. In addition, Hudson offers insight into the social history of South Carolina and the development of the state's crucial role in the civil rights era to come.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7303-0
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    When we are reading a novel or watching a film, nothing shapes our perceptions or inhibits our imagination as much as knowing the conclusion in advance. A critic poised to divulge a surprise ending or an unforeseen plot twist issues a spoiler alert. Beware, the critic warns; what is about to be revealed may jeopardize one’s ability to experience the unfolding narrative with fresh eyes or may subvert the ability to consider many possibilities. With advance knowledge of the conclusion we may be dismissive of particular characters or underestimate the significance of actions that lead away from the revealed ending....

  6. Part 1: Wartime Challenges

    • Chapter 1 Black Hope
      (pp. 11-40)

      On February 21, 1919, thousands lined the downtown streets of Columbia waiting for the excitement to begin. The capital city had hosted numerous parades since the United States entered the Great War, but on this Friday onlookers knew they were about to see battle-hardened heroes. The men who would soon parade had fought in the climactic Champagne offensive in France and demonstrated their valor on the front lines at Verdun, one of Europe’s most infamous dying fields. These returning soldiers wore medals—American and French military decorations that testified to their battlefield courage. South Carolinians who assembled along Main and...

    • Chapter 2 White Resolve
      (pp. 41-72)

      “It is possible, indeed likely,” declaredThe State’s editor, William Watts Ball, “that the South Carolina and the South that we have known will be, on account of this war, unrecognizable in the course of a few years.” Ball’s optimistic forecast demonstrates aptly that World War I inspired hope. Not only were South Carolina’s African American reformers hopeful, but the war also fostered high expectations among whites who styled themselves progressive reformers. They dreamed of a progressive South Carolina with a diverse and prosperous economy, an effective state highway system, expanded educational opportunity, compassionate treatment of the mentally ill, rehabilitation...

    • Chapter 3 Mobilization for War
      (pp. 73-100)

      The hope that South Carolina’s African American reformers expressed in 1919 arose in part out of their recent experience with war mobilization. When the United States officially entered the Great War in the spring of 1917, the Woodrow Wilson administration rapidly mobilized the nation for total war, hoping to make an immediate and lasting difference for the Allies. Among other things, war mobilization precipitated a military draft, massive training of newly recruited soldiers, labor shortages, and new employment opportunities for all South Carolinians. These sweeping changes threatened the stability of South Carolina’s existing racial hierarchy. Sensing that this potential instability...

    • Chapter 4 Interracial Cooperation, 1917–1919
      (pp. 101-119)

      From the nation’s initial engagement in World War I to the immediate postwar era, black and white reformers forged two distinct and seemingly parallel trajectories as they navigated war-imposed responsibilities. The dictates of white supremacy, of course, insisted that white reformers lead the state’s war mobilization effort while engaging black reformers in a subordinate role of helping whites meet the national wartime objectives. White reformers needed African American reformers’ cooperation and wanted their leadership among the state’s black majority. Yet white reformers drew upon black reformers’ leadership for whites’ very limited war-related purposes while attempting to suppress black reformers’ broader,...

    • Chapter 5 Interracial Tension, 1919
      (pp. 120-147)

      Celebrations commenced November 11, 1918, hailing the armistice that signaled an end to the Great War. With the ending and winning of the war, black reformers anticipated an accelerated loosening of oppressive constraints that had eased somewhat during the war. They expected rewards for their loyalty and commitment, tangible results for their dutiful wartime cooperation. With heightened expectations, black reformers grew more impatient with their inequality and bolder in their insistence on change. Yet the war’s conclusion quickly diminished the war-generated leverage African Americans had briefly enjoyed. White reformers, by contrast, waited eagerly for an end to the fluidity of...

    • Chapter 6 The Great Migration
      (pp. 148-176)

      White reformers welcomed economic opportunities generated by the nation’s mobilization for World War I. Yet, by eroding white supremacy’s insularity, wartime opportunities also spawned a new, and less welcomed, instability. Among other things, the interjection of the federal government into local issues disturbed white domination of existing racial relationships. Complicating whites’ ability to control political, economic, and social relationships, the wartime threats to white supremacy deeply troubled white South Carolinians. Black Carolinians emerged as agents of change and, during wartime, obtained needed leverage, despite the structural impediments of segregation and disfranchisement. Such a reconfiguration of power relations contradicted white supremacy’s...

  7. Part 2: The Politics of White Supremacy

    • Chapter 7 A Reform Coalition
      (pp. 179-205)

      In the era of World War I, South Carolina’s political system operated in a culture shaped by the dictates of white supremacy and white South Carolinians’ fixation on defending them. William Watts Ball, a keen political analyst in early twentieth-century South Carolina and editor ofThe State,commented before one election that despite intense anti-Catholic sentiment among southerners, “the South on election day would vote for the Pope himself rather than share the post offices with the ‘niggers.’”¹ In order to ensure white rule in a black-majority state, white South Carolinians constructed and carefully guarded the 1895 constitutional voting restrictions...

    • Chapter 8 Woman Suffrage
      (pp. 206-222)

      As their enthusiasm for suffrage restrictions indicated, South Carolina’s white reformers preferred and sought control over the scope and character of the electorate. They favored restricting participation to the “better sort” whenever possible. Nationally, progressives endorsed the enfranchisement of women as a method for infusing the electorate with the better sort. National progressives believed that women, especially middle-class women, brought a wholesome, softening, and virtuous quality to the harsh realm of politics. However, the paramount concern over white supremacy, particularly in the midst of war-induced African American activism, placed South Carolina’s white reformers in a precarious position on the woman...

    • Chapter 9 Funding Reform
      (pp. 223-241)

      As South Carolina white reformers pursued their post–World War I agenda, they viewed tax reform as the most fundamental and challenging reform of the era. All other reforms—public education, paved highways, public health, a more humane criminal justice system, and improved social services for the poor, wayward youth, and the mentally ill—involved expanding state services and raising additional state revenue. But by 1920, calls for retrenchment of government spending had grown loud as a reaction to state spending increases that reformers had championed during Governor Richard Manning’s administration, which coincided with the war years. From 1914 to...

    • Chapter 10 Taxing Wealth
      (pp. 242-260)

      When the general assembly convened in January 1920, South Carolina’s white reformers greeted the new session with hopeful expectation. With World War I successfully concluded, reformers anticipated continuing the state-centered activism they had marshaled to meet wartime demands. Soon after the armistice, reformers’ optimism received institutional expression through the organization of the South Carolina Development Board. This private, statewide organization promoted reformers’ comprehensive postwar reforms, justifying the optimism and commitment to state-level reform that had been spawned by their wartime-mobilization experiences. Further buoying their confidence, Cole Blease’s historically poor showing in the 1918 U.S. Senate race had signaled the weakening...

    • Chapter 11 Financing Educational Reform
      (pp. 261-281)

      At the conclusion of World War I, South Carolina’s population, with a 20 percent illiteracy rate, ranked as the second most illiterate in the nation. Moreover, three in four South Carolina adults lacked even an elementary school education. “South Carolina has been widely advertised as the most backward of all the states in public education,” state superintendent of education John E. Swearingen lamented in 1921.¹ All reformers, black and white, agreed that South Carolina’s proportionately large illiterate and undereducated population, coupled with its inadequate public school system, compounded the state’s poverty, its excessive dependence on labor-intensive cotton agriculture, and its...

    • Chapter 12 Legacy of Reform
      (pp. 282-305)

      Understanding the power of white supremacy requires scrutinizing the ways that whites exercised power. Additionally, it requires identifying the multifaceted and contradictory ways that they employed white supremacy’s manipulative potential. The legislative debate over funding education that dominated the 1924 session reveals the pervasiveness and complexity of white supremacy. Within the banal routine of committee decisions, debated amendments, behind-the-scenes lobbying, and obscure procedural maneuvers, white supremacy’s hidden power was revealed. Therefore, it is best seen with a keen eye for subtlety, to spot legislative machinations contemporaries employed to conceal their motives and strategies from their rivals. Beneath the detailed questions...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 306-313)

    African Americans’ World War I–related activism is a reminder of historical contingency. From the vantage point of hindsight historians can see that African Americans’ direct and aggressive challenge to white supremacy did not significantly loosen its grip, which remained stifling for decades after World War I. The war-era activists, however, did not live with the sense of certainty that white supremacy would retain its power for the remainder of their lives and well beyond. Every rumor, race conference, petition, voter registration, NAACP activity, and gesture of pride and confidence expressed by African American reformers aroused fear, anxiety, resentment, and...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 314-354)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 355-373)
  11. Index
    (pp. 374-390)