Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy

October 31, 2020
Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy

Why do white supremacist politics in America remain so powerful?Elizabeth Gillespie McRae argues that the answer lies with whitewomen. Examining racial segregation from 1920s to the 1970s,Mothers of Massive Resistance explores the grassrootsworkers who maintained the system of racial segregation and JimCrow. For decades in rural communities, in university towns, and inNew South cities, white women performed myriad duties that upheldwhite over black: censoring textbooks, denying marriagecertificates, deciding on the racial identity of their neighbors,celebrating school choice, canvassing communities for votes, andlobbying elected officials. They instilled beliefs in racialhierarchies in their children, built national networks, andexperimented with a color-blind political discourse. Without thesemundane, everyday acts, white supremacist politics could not haveshaped local, regional, and national politics the way it did orlasted as long as it has. With white women at the center of thestory, the rise of postwar conservatism looks very different thanthe male-dominated narratives of the resistance to Civil Rights.Women like Nell Battle Lewis, Florence Sillers Ogden, Mary DawsonCain, and Cornelia Dabney Tucker publicized threats to their JimCrow world through political organizing, private correspondence,and journalism. Their efforts began before World War II and theBrown decision and persisted past the 1964 Civil Rights Act andanti-busing protests. White women's segregationist politicsstretched across the nation, overlapping with and shaping the riseof the New Right. Mothers of Massive Resistance revealsthe diverse ways white women sustained white supremacist politicsand thought well beyond the federal legislation that overturnedlegal segregation.