restricted access 5. Reorganized Relations, Entrenched Hard-Liners
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119 Chapter 5 Reorganized Relations, Entrenched Hard-Liners In November 1963, Paul B. Johnson was elected governor on a platform that asked Mississippians to “stand tall with Paul.” His campaign slogan was a reference to his own defiant blocking of the doorway as lieutenant governor against the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi (a substitute act of resistance for Ross Barnett, who could not be there in person). Johnson, who had run for governor twice before, was ushered in as Barnett’s obvious successor, at a time when consecutive gubernatorial terms were not permitted. Johnson had courted the segregationist element, especially the Citizens’ Council. In May 1961, Johnson spoke at the seventh anniversary meeting of the Jackson Citizens’ Council as lieutenant governor. To an audience that William Simmons had welcomed with the greeting “Good evening, white folks,” Johnson praised the Citizens’ Council for the prevention of violence in Mississippi and for being the “reason for successful segregation and racial harmony.” He also reportedly said that “the only time integrationists made progress was when moderates in public office gave them support and protection.”1 Speaking before the Jackson Citizens’ Council in May 1963, Johnson pledged “to get the Kennedys out of the White House,” protect segregated schools, and expand the role of the MSSC. However, he also warned that he would “not be the tool of any faction or group,” and that despite popular belief, he was not “the Citizens’ Council candidate.”2 Once elected, Governor Johnson delivered an inaugural address that made the front page of the New York Times and contradicted his history of resistance. He issued the following words that would be repeated in 120 Reconstituting Whiteness the MSSC’s public relations campaign of the mid-1960s: “Hate, or prejudice , or ignorance will not lead Mississippi while I sit in the Governor’s chair. . . . It will not be a rear-guard defense of yesterday . . . [but] it will be an all-out assault for our share of tomorrow.” He did not talk about race and segregation, but rather pledged to promote the development of business, industry, and agriculture.3 Addressing a joint session of the Mississippi legislature a few months into his administration, Johnson urged modernization of the state’s election laws; he continued to push constitutional revision to ward off more federal intrusion in the months leading up to passage of the Voting Rights Act. He also encouraged his audience to remember that the state of Mississippi and its employees should be the agents of law and order during the current crisis, where “organized revolutionaries ” were in Mississippi to create turmoil in order to force federal intervention.4 Johnson did not suddenly become a racial progressive, or even a moderate; rather, he simply did not promote segregation in the manner that his previous actions and rhetoric had promised. The new governor also took a very different approach to the MSSC than did Barnett. In fact, he barely took an approach to it, contradicting his pledge before the Jackson Citizens’ Council to expand the organization ’s capacities. By August 1964, the MSSC was still unorganized, waiting for Johnson to name his citizen appointees to the board. Johnson’s distance from the MSSC enabled Erle Johnston to largely assume the reins of organizational control. Johnston described his new approach to the governor and MSSC board members in a memo reporting on the agency’s activities through most of 1964: “We have attempted to operate the office as a preventive program to avoid incidents and situations where they could be averted by advance information in the hands of proper authorities. We have also assumed the role, when called upon, of trouble shooter for communities , boards, or commissions requesting official guidance in working out solutions to racial problems.” The report went on to list the MSSC’s role in addressing various issues, ranging from the integration of extension courses at a military base to the effort to oust the president of Tougaloo College, a historically black liberal arts school in Jackson.5 During this time, Johnston also turned the public relations program inward, focusing on getting a message of resistant accommodation out to Mississippi audiences in the wake of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.6 Resistant accommodation was a shift from practical segregation , in that Johnston began to acknowledge the inevitability of public Reorganized Relations, Entrenched Hard-Liners 121 integration but continued to find ways to resist it through discourse and...


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Subject Headings

  • Mississippi -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century.
  • Mississippi -- Politics and government -- 1951-.
  • States' rights (American politics) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission -- History.
  • White supremacy movements -- Mississippi -- History -- 20th century.
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