A fresh look at “the story of grassroots resistance to racial equality undertaken by white women” who “took central roles in disciplining their communities according to Jim Crow’s rules.”
For McRae (History/Western Carolina Univ.), whose dissertation and essay in the 2005 anthology Massive Resistance: Southern Opposition to the Second Reconstruction mark her long interest in the subject, the story centers on four politically active women: Nell Battle Lewis from North Carolina, Mary Dawson Cain and Florence Sillers Ogden from Mississippi, and Cornelia Dabney Tucker from South Carolina. They were part of a large network of like-minded white women stretching across the South and even to California and Massachusetts. Throughout the book, McRae amply shows the determination and skill of these women in shaping resistance to racial equality through their efforts in social welfare, education, electoral politics, and popular culture. Black-and-white photographs, documents, and excerpts of their writings create a powerful picture of these segregationists at work. (No selections, however, appear from Ogden’s newspaper column, “Dis an Dat,” written in black dialect as a reminder of the social order she aimed to preserve.) Although the author is a scholar, her writing is free from pedantry and filled with details that will prove eye-opening for many readers. As she notes, female segregationists were the “crucial workforce” of the white supremacy movement, shaping ideas about sex, marriage, motherhood, culture, and education. McRae takes readers from the 1920s, through World War II, the reaction to the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and on to the present day, illuminating the connection between white supremacy and the anti-communist crusade of the Cold War, opposition to the United Nations, and the larger conservative political movement.
The crystal-clear message of this thoroughly researched and impressively documented book is that white supremacy remains a powerful force in the United States.