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The Role of Ideas in the Civil Rights South

Ted Ownby

Publication Year: 2002

With essays by Tony Badger, David L. Chappell, Elizabeth Jacoway, Richard H. King, Ralph E. Luker, Charles Marsh, Keith D. Miller, Linda Reed, and Lauren F. Winner

In the 1950s and 1960s the American South was in upheaval. Brilliant thinkers and writers joined on-the-ground activists to challenge segregation and the South's long established Jim Crow society. The men and women who opposed them waged a war of words in favor of the status quo.

The essays in The Role of Ideas in the Civil Rights South examine the interplay of thought and action in a complex and turbulent moment in American history. Written by scholars in history, English, and religious studies, these essays explore ideas about religion, freedom, race, liberalism, and conservatism.

When people challenged authority, or defended it, what ideas did they uphold? What were their moral and intellectual standards? What language did they use, and what sources did they cite? What issues did they feel needed explaining, what issues did they take for granted, and what issues did they avoid?

Leading scholars investigate the wide range of conceptions, interpretations, and responses to the whirlwind of change. Some of the essays concentrate on intellectuals who were systematic thinkers who published their work to be studied, analyzed, and used. Four essays center on the ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr., surely the most influential southern intellectual in the 1950s and 1960s. Other essays analyze the thoughts of people, such as civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and segregationist politician Jim Johnson, who never saw themselves as intellectuals.

The civil rights movement set the agenda for thought and action in the 1950s and 1960s. The Role of Ideas in the Civil Rights South begins by examining ideas prominent in the movement. It then studies the ideas of white moderates in the South, white conservatives, and African Americans who did not join the movement. Particular emphases include the relationship between theology and political life, the national and international contexts of southern thought, and the variety of southern intellectual interests.

Ted Ownby is a professor of history and southern studies at the University of Mississippi. His books include American Dreams in Mississippi: Consumers, Poverty, and Culture, 1830-1998 (1999) and Subduing Satan: Religion, Recreation, and Manhood in the Rural South, 1865-1920 (1990).

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Cover/Title Page/Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

The papers in this volume began as part of the annual Porter L. Fortune, Jr. History Symposium at the University of Mississippi. Thanks go to my colleagues in the History Department, especially Robert Haws, chairman of the department, for working to make that event a success, and my colleagues at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. ...

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pp. ix-xiv

Our primary images of the American South in the 1950s and 1960s concern vivid struggles over power. Some of those struggles took place in the streets, some in the courts, some in legislatures, some in schools. Our images involve protest and counter-protest, demands to be heard and refusals to acknowledge those demands, ...

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Niebuhrisms and Myrdaleries: The Intellectual Roots of the Civil Rights Movement Reconsidered

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pp. 3-18

I am arguing that there is a radical distinction and discontinuity between what we call liberalism and the intellectual sources of what we call the civil rights movement. Looking back from the perspective of today, commentators assume an identity between liberalism and civil rights, ...

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The Civil Rights Movement as Theological Drama

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pp. 19-38

In this paper, I ask what a theological analysis of the civil rights movement might look like and how such an analysis might open up an interpretive framework within which scholars and activists could learn new lessons from the period. A good place to begin is with a basic question. ...

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Kingdom of God and Beloved Community in the Thought of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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pp. 39-54

Martin Luther King, Jr., is more closely associated with language about the "beloved community" than any other preacher or public intellectual in the twentieth century. Indeed, two scholars argue that it was "the organizing principle" of his public ministry, the "capstone" of his thought. ...

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Beacon Light and Penumbra: African American Gospel Lyrics and Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream"

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pp. 55-68

Before James Farmer founded the Congress of Racial Equality and led the Freedom Rides, he earned a master's degree in religion at Howard University. There he studied with Benjamin Mays and Howard Thurman, who later served as two of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s most important mentors. ...

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Fannie Lou Hamer: New Ideas for the Civil Rights Movement and American Democracy

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pp. 69-82

At the time of Fannie Lou Townsend's birth into the world, America had been involved in World War I for a little over a year. A war that was fought to make the world safe for democracy did not mean the same for Fannie Lou Townsend, her family and all other African Americans in the United States. ...

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"Closet Moderates": Why White Liberals Failed, 1940–1970

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pp. 83-112

Kerr Scott was the most liberal governor of North Carolina of the twentieth century. He was elected in 1948 in an upset victory over the State Treasurer, Charles Johnson. The blunt uncompromising Scott campaigned for his "branchhead boys"—isolated rural voters who lived not at the heads of the rivers but at the ends of the tributaries ...

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The Struggle Against Equality: Conservative Intellectuals in the Civil Rights Era, 1954–1975

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pp. 113-136

If any single issue has ''belonged" to post-World War II American liberalism, it is race. In domestic politics, the Democratic Party became the party of racial liberalism and the home base of African Americans, while the Republican Party, once the party of Lincoln and abolitionism, saw its black support all but disappear by the end of the 1960s. ...

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Jim Johnson of Arkansas: Segregationist Prototype

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pp. 137-156

In Arkansas they called him Justice Jim. He was the last of a long line of colorful Arkansas political characters, displaced in an era of television by the more bland and sophisticated David Pryors, Dale Bumpers's and Bill Clintons. His Mama gave him the middle name Douglas, because as he says "she was in love with Douglas Fairbanks"; ...

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Doubtless Sincere: New Characters in the Civil Rights Cast

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pp. 157-170

With each new book on civil rights, the movement's dramatis personae grows larger. The old cast of black heroes still has center stage, but supporting actors who used to be walk-ons now have speaking parts. We know about gentleman segregationists like James J. Kilpatrick and Ku Kluxers like Sam Bowers. ...


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pp. 171-206

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pp. 207-208

Tony Badger is Paul Mellon Professor of History at Cambridge University and Vice- Master of Sidney Sussex College. He is author of Prosperity Road: The New Deal, Tobacco, and North Carolina and The New Deal: The Depression Years, 1933-1940; ...


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pp. 209-219

E-ISBN-13: 9781621036951
E-ISBN-10: 1578064686
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578064687

Publication Year: 2002