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Entangled by White Supremacy

Reform in World War I-era South Carolina

Janet Hudson

Publication Year: 2009

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.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: New Directions in Southern History

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii


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pp. viii

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pp. ix-x

A journey as long and arduous as writing this book can only be completed with the assistance of countless individuals. I would like to acknowledge and thank a very few of those people. Many of the limitations of this book spring from my determined yet futile search for self-sufficiency, but without the assistance of William A. Link, ...

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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 ...

Part 1: Wartime Challenges

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pp. 9-10

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Chapter 1. Black Hope

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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 ...

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Chapter 2. White Resolve

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pp. 41-72

... 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. ...

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Chapter 3. Mobilization for War

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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 ...

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Chapter 4. Interracial Cooperation, 1917–1919

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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 ...

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Chapter 5. Interracial Tension, 1919

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pp. 131-147

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 ...

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Chapter 6. The Great Migration

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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 ...

Part 2: The Politics of White Supremacy

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pp. 177-178

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Chapter 7. A Reform Coalition

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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 of The State, commented before one election that despite ...

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Chapter 8. Woman Suffrage

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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 ...

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Chapter 9. Funding Reform

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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 ...

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Chapter 10. Taxing Wealth

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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’ ...

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Chapter 11. Financing Educational Reform

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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 ...

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Chapter 12. Legacy of Reform

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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 ...

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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, ...


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pp. 314-354


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pp. 355-373


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pp. 374-389

E-ISBN-13: 9780813173030
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813125022

Page Count: 400
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: New Directions in Southern History