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Dividing Lines

Municipal Politics and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma

Written by J. Mills Thornton

Publication Year: 2002

A landmark book on the struggle for racial equality in America.
With this bold offering from two decades of research, J. Mills Thornton III presents the story of the civil rights movement from the perspective of community-municipal history at the grassroots level. Thornton demonstrates that the movement had powerful local sources in its three birth cities--Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma.  There, the arcane mechanisms of state and city governance and the missteps of municipal politicians and civic leaders--independent of emerging national trends in racial mores--led to the great swell of energy for change that became the civil rights movement.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

This book had its origins during the academic year 1987–88, when I was a fellow of the University of Virginia’s Carter G. Woodson Institute. I had gone to Virginia to prepare a monograph on the 1955–56 Montgomery bus boycott, an event I had been studying for some time, but an invitation to participate in a conference the Woodson Institute had organized that spring on the civil rights...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-19

In October 1954, Professor C. Vann Woodward delivered at the University of Virginia the lectures on the origins of southern racial segregation that the following year would be published under the title The Strange Career of Jim Crow. In the years just after Reconstruction, he said, the patterns of race relations in the region were strikingly diverse, varying from town to town and from institution to institution,...

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2. Montgomery

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pp. 20-140

At the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, Montgomery’s municipal politics was in the midst of a fundamental transformation—a transformation that, as we shall see, played an essential role in shaping the course of race relations in the city.¹ For essentially the preceding half century, Montgomery had been ruled by the Gunter machine, headed for most of that time by...

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3. Birmingham

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pp. 141-379

The declining power of the Gunter machine was, as we have just seen, a crucial factor in inducing Montgomery’s black leadership to believe that their world was capable of being changed. And as we shall discover when we turn our attention to Selma, the defeat of the intransigent Burns-Heinz machine there played a comparable role in the transformation of that city. Birmingham, however, had no...

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4. Selma

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pp. 380-499

If Birmingham by 1963 had begun tentatively to move beyond the white supremacist past personified by “Bull” Connor, the same could most definitely not be said of Connor’s birthplace, Selma. In any ranking of Alabama’s cities in the 1950s and 1960s, Selma would very likely have emerged as its single most inflexibly and fervently segregationist. Under the circumstances, it may not be...

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5. Aftermath

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pp. 500-564

The seeming end of the national civil rights movement at about the time of the death of Martin Luther King in 1968—at any rate, the rather rapid decline thereafter in the ability of local direct-action efforts to arouse nationwide white sympathy and concern, and the consequent diminution in the influence of the national civil rights organizations—is a historical problem quite as significant...

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6. Conclusion

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pp. 565-583

The argument thus far has sought to explain the profoundly local and political nature of the civil rights movements in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma. They were, I have claimed, products of specific municipal political developments, and their goals, though in part to gain alterations in particular local policies, were just as importantly to influence the structure of municipal political life.


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pp. 585-696

Index [Includes About the Author]

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pp. 697-734

E-ISBN-13: 9780817380984
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817352998

Publication Year: 2002

OCLC Number: 183316586
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Dividing Lines

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Subject Headings

  • Political culture -- Alabama -- History -- 20th century.
  • Birmingham (Ala.) -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
  • Selma (Ala.) -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
  • Montgomery (Ala.) -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
  • Civil rights movements -- Alabama -- History -- 20th century
  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- Alabama.
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