- Hazel Brannon Smith: The Female Crusading Scalawag by Jeffery B. Howell
Hazel Brannon Smith: The Female Crusading Scalawag is a biography of Hazel Brannon Smith, a white newspaper editor in Holmes County, Mississippi, who earned national acclaim as one of the first women to win a Pulitzer Prize as a result of her editorial positions during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Jeffery B. Howell chronicles the entirety of Smith's career, tracing the evolution of her views on southern race relations and her consistent commitment to freedom of speech and law and order.
Howell contends that Smith's early career laid the groundwork for her fight against the White Citizens' Council in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education (1954). In the 1940s Smith consistently denounced lawlessness in her campaign against bootleg liquor. She viewed the actions of the Citizens' Council to maintain segregation through intimidation, violence, and economic retaliation as another expression of reckless disregard for the rule of law that threatened not only the civil rights of African Americans but also the civil liberties of white southern moderates like herself.
Howell suggests that these concerns, rather than a liberal critique of Jim Crow, drove Smith to speak out against the Citizens' Council. During the first two decades of her career, "she ardently supported segregation" (p. 4). Although she decried overt violence and called for the equalization of public services, Smith believed that white and black southerners alike preferred racial separation. In her editorials in the late 1950s, Smith supported the state's legislative efforts to circumvent the implementation of the Brown decision and even applauded the establishment of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission. [End Page 216]
However, Smith alienated the white establishment when she spoke out against the Citizens' Council's tactics. The Citizens' Council sought to put Smith out of business by calling on advertisers to boycott her papers and by establishing a rival publication. The once popular editor became a social pariah, and she bridled at the Citizens' Council's efforts to quash her editorial voice. Rather than being intimidated, Smith took a more progressive stand in the early 1960s by calling for the repeal of Jim Crow segregation statutes and printing copies of NAACP publications like the Mississippi Free Press.
Howell demonstrates how out of step Smith was with white public opinion by comparing her editorials and columns with those run by her competitors at the Lexington (Mississippi) Holmes County Herald, the Jackson Daily News, and the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. However, it would have been useful to analyze Smith's writing alongside the perspectives promoted by the black press. Smith maintained that abolishing formal segregation statutes would not overthrow "local customs and traditions" and opined that de facto segregation would continue to preserve most facets of the so-called southern way of life (p. 135).
Howell describes Smith as an ally of the civil rights movement who helped facilitate racial change in Mississippi and was called an integrationist, yet he notes that Smith never described herself as such. Howell maintains that the label was less important than Smith's calls for "equal justice, fair treatment, freedom of expression and association, and racial harmony," and he suggests that she must have understood that "freedoms" could not exist "without some measure of societal integration," despite her own statements to the contrary (pp. 136, 160). Ultimately, Howell's portrait of Hazel Brannon Smith reveals both the editor's important contributions and the limitations of white southern moderation in the twentieth century.