THE POLITICS OF MASSIVE RESISTANCE by Francis M. Wilhoit

THE POLITICS OF MASSIVE RESISTANCE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The title of Prof. Wilhoit's careful, scholarly study refers to the South's mobilization and perpetuation of the backlash to the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. the Board of Education. Wilhoit argues convincingly that far from being a spontaneous, grass-roots reaction to the Court's integration decree, the resistance was a deliberate, purposeful creation of Southern politicians: initially the Court order to integrate received a mixed reception; it was only when the likes of Harry F. Byrd, Herman Talmadge, Russell B. Long, Leander Perez, et al., organized and incited white southerners that the segregationist position solidified and racial hatred acquired new virulence in the White Citizens' Councils, the Knights of the White Christians and other exotic supremacist groups. Wilhoit's central focus is on the political mythology which was developed to petrify the status quo; specifically on the elaboration of the myth of White Supremacy (God created separate races and meant to keep them that way; Negroes are happier with their own kind, etc.) and the more sophisticated but equally faulty and self-serving myth of States' Rights Federalism, ""an amorphous collage of theory, fancy, fact, half-truth, aspiration and plain old rationalization."" Despite Wilhoit's tough-minded appraisal of the demagogues and the politicos who fired the backlash, his purpose is not to censor and condemn but to understand the peculiar, pernicious politics of the South. In a strong concluding chapter he examines some of the ""preconditions"" -- political, psycho-cultural, religious -- which aided and abetted the racist reaction, considering everything from the martyrology of Jeff Davis and Robert E. Lee to the machismo (""Don't be half a man, join the Klan"") endemic in the society. Southern politics has traditionally been far removed from the American mainstream and hence especially fascinating for both the historian and the novelist. Wilhoit is himself a southerner and his analysis has weight and authority.

Pub Date: Nov. 28th, 1973
Publisher: Braziller