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Delaying the Dream

Southern Senators and the Fight against Civil Rights, 1938-1965

Keith M. Finley

Publication Year: 2008

Few historical events lend themselves to such a sharp delineation between right and wrong as does the civil rights struggle. Consequently, many historical accounts of white resistance to civil rights legislation emphasize the ferocity of the opposition, from the Ole Miss riots to the depredations of Eugene "Bull" Conner's Birmingham police force to George Wallace's stand on the schoolhouse steps. While such hostile episodes frequently occurred in the Jim Crow South, civil rights adversaries also employed other, less confrontational but remarkably successful, tactics to deny equal rights to black Americans. In Delaying the Dream, Keith M. Finley explores gradations in the opposition by examining how the region's principal national spokesmen—its United States senators—addressed themselves to the civil rights question and developed a concerted plan of action to thwart legislation: the use of strategic delay. Prior to World War II, Finley explains, southern senators recognized the fall of segregation as inevitable and consciously changed their tactics to delay, rather than prevent, defeat, enabling them to frustrate civil rights advances for decades. As public support for civil rights grew, southern senators transformed their arguments to limit the use of overt racism and appeal to northerners. They granted minor concessions on bills only tangentially related to civil rights while emasculating those with more substantive provisions. They garnered support by nationalizing their defense of sectional interests and linked their defense of segregation with constitutional principles to curry favor with non-southern politicians. While the senators achieved success at the federal level, Finley shows, they failed to challenge local racial agitators in the South, allowing extremism to flourish. The escalation of white assaults on peaceful protesters in the 1950s and 1960s finally prompted northerners to question southern claims of tranquility under Jim Crow. When they did, segregation came under direct attack, and the principles that had informed strategic delay became obsolete. Finley's analysis goes beyond traditional images of the quest for racial equality--the heroic struggle, the southern extremism, the filibusters--to reveal another side to the conflict. By focusing on strategic delay and the senators' foresight in recognizing the need for this tactic, Delaying the Dream adds a fresh perspective to the canon on the civil rights era in modern American history.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix

LIKE ANY AUTHOR, I am indebted to many individuals who either directly or indirectly offered assistance at various points in the development of this project. Archivists and librarians across the American South and beyond have made my sojourns at their institutions both productive and enjoyable. Where would we historians be without them? ...

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pp. 1-14

MOST HISTORICAL ASSESSMENTS of America’s civil rights struggle focus on either the fight by the African American community or the leaders who directed the political coalition that championed black legal and political equality. Many approach the civil rights movement from the top down by studying figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon Johnson, both considered ...

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1. Opening Pandora’s Box

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pp. 15-55

ON 13 APRIL 1937, African American defendants “Bootjack” McDaniels and Roosevelt Townes entered a not guilty plea for the murder of white grocer, George Windham. Following the arraignment of the two detainees at the Winona County, Mississippi, courthouse that afternoon, a mob abducted them in plain view of their police escort and drove them to the nearby town ...

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2. The Origins of Strategic Delay

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pp. 56-96

IN SEPTEMBER 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland and World War II began. At first, the United States remained neutral, but following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, it entered the conflagration against the Axis powers. Washington statesmen met the crisis by orchestrating an enormous mobilization that pulled the country out of the economic ...

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3. The Battle Broadens

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pp. 97-137

AT THE END OF 1946, President Harry S. Truman established a civil rights commission in an effort to renew the then expired FEPC and, as he explained, “to get the facts and to publicize as widely as possible the need for legislation” aimed at ameliorating the plight of black Americans. After investigating the problem, the commission released its findings under the title ...

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4. Division in the Ranks

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pp. 138-190

THE SUPREME COURT DECISION IN THE 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas et al. case offered a powerful judicial challenge to the segregation statutes sanctioned by the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling. “Separate but equal” schools as existed under the Jim Crow system, the court held, were “inherently unequal” and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, which ...

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5. Victory through Compromise

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pp. 191-232

ON 9 SEPTEMBER 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower signed House Resolution 6127 into law, an event marking the enactment of the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction. This noteworthy occurrence received limited media attention because, the previous week, Arkansas governor Orval Faubus ...

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6. This Is Where the Battle Will Be Won or Lost

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pp. 233-280

ON 4 MAY 1961, members of the Congress of Racial Equality headed south from Washington to test southern compliance with the Supreme Court’s 1960 Boynton v. Virginia decision, which banned segregation on interstate bus lines and in interstate terminals. As the delegation moved through Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, they encountered only limited opposition. ...

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7. Inevitable Defeat

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pp. 281-305

RICHARD RUSSELL'S HEALTH had steadily declined after he developed emphysema-like symptoms in 1958. Although he quit smoking after experiencing difficulty breathing, his respiratory system progressively worsened. On 2 February 1965, less than a year after the climactic civil rights fight, the sixty-eight-year-old southern leader suffered a severe case of pulmonary ...

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pp. 306-315

WITH LEGAL AND political equality procured, at least in theory, with the landmark legislation of 1964 and 1965, the civil rights movement splintered as the focus of the crusade shifted northward to the economic injustices that impeded the advancement of the nation’s black community. When the protest effort expanded, it fractured over its objectives and divided over the ...


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pp. 317-320


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pp. 321-332


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pp. 333-340

E-ISBN-13: 9780807134610
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807137116

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2008