Contesting Massive Resistance 1954–1962
Contesting Massive Resistance 1954–1962
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter covers the period of the civil rights movement known as “massive resistance” that began after Brown, demonstrating how although the white South was nominally united in opposition to any desegregation of public facilities, this was a false appearance of unity. As the civil rights movement successfully engineered a showdown over compliance with Brown, white Georgians were forced to choose between closing the public schools and accepting some desegregation. Ultimately, token desegregation was approved and massive resistance abandoned. At the same time, the Republican Party was growing at a substantial rate in urban and suburban parts of Georgia.
I will not vote to destroy a living institution in order to preserve a dying one.
State representative Hamilton Lokey (D-Fulton County), 1956
The “Statement on Constitutional Principles” that Georgia's senior U.S. senator Walter George read into the Congressional Record on March 11, 1956, was intended to be a defining moment in the white Souths confrontation with the federal government over school desegregation. More popularly known as the “Southern Manifesto” the two-page document was written as a rallying cry against the Brown decision and purported to represent the settled and undivided opinion of a defiant white South. In his speech, George read into the Record the Manifesto's praise for those state legislatures that had vowed to “resist forced integration by any lawful means” and called on all white southerners to work to “bring about a reversal” of Brown. George also endorsed the Manifesto's claim that the Brown ruling was unconstitutional, had no “legal basis,” and was a “clear abuse of judicial power.” According to the Manifesto, the Supreme Court had exceeded its authority, and hence the ruling was invalid. In espousing this view, the Manifesto was not just endorsing the gathering momentum behind “massive resistance” to desegregation; it was all but demanding that such resistance receive the support of every white southerner.1
The Manifesto encapsulated the Regular position as it was being presented to southern voters in the mid-1950s. By placing race at the center of the political discussion and framing resistance to the Supreme Court as a defense of southern tradition, the Manifesto was intended to define the debate over desegregation in terms that would be favorable to the Regulars' arguments. Ideally, it would place Loyalists on the defensive in southern elections, while the national Democratic leadership would be on notice that supporting school desegregation would jeopardize a majority (p.89) of the party's southern support. By seeking to create an impression of unassailable white southern unity, the Manifesto's authors were therefore speaking to both a national and a regional audience.
Superficially, the Manifesto's authors were very successful in their aims. Certainly the overwhelming support of the southern congressional delegation for the Manifesto lent plausibility to the claim that it spoke on behalf of white southern opinion: nineteen out of twenty-two southern senators and 81 out of 105 southern representatives signed the document.2 This in turn reflected a larger shift within southern politics toward electing Regular Democrats committed to massive resistance after 1954. According to Earl Black's analysis, only two out of the fourteen gubernatorial races held in the South from 1950 to 1954 had produced victories for the most racially conservative candidate. By 1956, however, that trend was reversing, and the Manifesto represented this shift in the political climate.3 Loyalists who disliked the Manifesto had to worry that a failure to sign would invite defeat in their next primary by a pro-Manifesto opponent. In some cases, as with U.S. representative Brooks Hays of Arkansas, such a threat was explicitly made in order to persuade him to sign.4 For the sake of his reelection prospects, Hays was wise to do so. In the years after the Manifesto was published, winning a southern election almost anywhere required a commitment to massive resistance. Even in the supposedly more progressive Rim South, those who opposed defying the federal courts found themselves ever more isolated in their attempts to avoid state legislatures passing “interposition resolutions” that declared federal court rulings on desegregation to be null and void.5
Collectively, the support for the Manifesto, the dominance of southern electoral contests by Regular candidates, and the spread of massive resistance throughout the South all suggested a consensus among white southerners that desegregation would not be permitted to occur. In fact, this appearance of unity was a facade, and no such consensus existed. For a few years in most southern states, massive resistance generated landslide victories for Regular candidates and reduced Loyalists to also-rans at the ballot box. During that time, the civil rights movement came under sustained legal, political, and sometimes physical assault across the South, and many states passed laws intended to thwart Brown by privatizing or closing the school system. Nonetheless, for all the sound and fury that massive resistance generated, it proved to be a short-lived movement that represented an aberration in the development of postwar southern (p.90) politics. By the early 1960s, the familiar political divisions of the postwar years had reappeared, and attempts to implement massive resistance had failed. In truth, massive resistance had only ever been likely to survive unchallenged so long as it was political posturing. Once it required executing as a policy, many of its erstwhile supporters balked at the consequences. In contrast to the hopes of the Southern Manifesto's authors, complying with the law through token desegregation proved to be more palatable to the majority of southerners than preserving white supremacy through closing the schools.
Yet just as the popularity massive resistance enjoyed at its peak should not lead us to overstate the depth of support it had among white southerners, so the rapidity of its fall should not lead us to understate the effort it took to bring it down. While there was always a good chance that white southerners would be hesitant to abandon public education for the sake of Jim Crow if actually forced to choose between the two, it was still necessary for supporters of desegregation to ensure that such a choice had to be made. This became a top priority of the civil rights movement in the aftermath of Brown and was a vital step toward the ending of massive resistance. By pushing the federal courts to order desegregation, civil rights activists forced the hand of those who feared the economic and social consequences of abandoning the public school system. This included most Loyalists, but also some leaders of a reemergent southern Republicanism. Few of them welcomed having to make this choice, but once they realized they had to choose there was no doubt in their minds that open schools was the first priority. Once again, Loyalists and their allies deployed progressive color blindness in order to win support for their position, and once again it proved a valuable tool in finessing the issue of race in the postwar South.
Ultimately, the contest over massive resistance illustrated several themes central to postwar southern politics, and its fall resulted in significant consequences for the civil rights movement and both political parties. First, it demonstrated once again that the central dynamic in the postwar South was the relationship between Loyalist Democrats and the civil rights movement. Massive resistance ended when the civil rights movement forced Loyalist Democrats to campaign against it. In turn, the end of massive resistance created an opening for Loyalists to regain the initiative in the contest for control of the Georgia Democratic Party. The end of massive resistance also undermined the central premise of the (p.91) Regulars' leadership: their ability to maintain the color line at all costs. For the civil rights movement, the end of massive resistance represented a considerable success, though still only a partial one. While civil rights activists were able to push a critical portion of the white southern population toward accepting an end to complete segregation, this also meant desegregation would take place on terms that these same white southerners found acceptable—that is, in a limited and strictly controlled fashion.
Second, the debate over massive resistance highlighted again how both Regular and Loyalist Democrats recognized that the basic agenda of the other had considerable support among the southern population, and how both factions formulated their political strategies accordingly. This was true even though Loyalists were a negligible presence in electoral contests during the massive resistance years. In fact, the Regular co-option of sizable portions of the Loyalist agenda even as massive resistance was in full swing was a critical part of shoring up their electoral dominance at the time. Similarly, even though Loyalists and their allies were ultimately successful in undermining massive resistance, they recognized that racial and social traditionalism was still popular, and sought not to challenge it any more than necessary. In short, despite the lopsided election results in the late 1950s, both modernizers and traditionalists acted as if they knew that neither could ultimately prevail by appealing only to their own base of supporters.
In Georgia, massive resistance lasted from around 1954 until 1961, although final ratification of its demise by the electorate did not occur until the 1962 Democratic primary. It reached its political peak in the 1958 gubernatorial election, when Ernest Vandiver was elected on a pledge that “no, not one” black child would ever be allowed to go to a white school on his watch. Vandiver also vowed to preserve the county-unit system, another familiar Regular priority. With no Loyalist opponent to challenge him, he captured more than 80 percent of the popular vote and carried all but six counties. And yet within two years of taking the oath of office, Vandiver found himself asking the General Assembly to repeal the massive resistance laws and allow token desegregation to take place. A year later, the county-unit system, on the verge of being struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, was abandoned by the state party. In the 1962 primary to succeed Vandiver, Loyalist Carl Sanders prevailed over former governor Griffin by a landslide. The political structure that Vandiver had vowed to defend with a huge popular mandate had not even survived his (p.92) term in office—proof positive of the shallow nature of the apparent consensus behind massive resistance.
In April 1959, a pessimistic Richard Russell had predicted dire consequences for the Regulars should massive resistance be ended. In a letter to Ross Sharpe of Lyons, Georgia, the senator argued that so long as massive resistance and the county-unit system were maintained, the Regulars would “get along all right.” If, however, these pillars of Regular dominance were to fall, “the country boys are finished.”6 In truth, even after the events of 1961 and 1962, Regulars continued to represent a sizable portion of the Georgia electorate, so Russell's assessment was unduly fatalistic. However, seen in terms of the control of the Georgia Democratic Party that Regulars had enjoyed in the previous sixteen years, the “country boys” who had been running it were indeed “finished.” Their one-time dominance would never be restored. Ending massive resistance broke their hold on the state Democratic Party.
All-In: The Regulars Gamble on Massive Resistance
The election of Marvin Griffin and the passage of the private schools amendment in 1954 provided Regulars with the political authority and the political momentum necessary to make massive resistance the official policy of the state. They proceeded to do so by passing laws that sought to snuff out any possibility that school desegregation might occur in Georgia. Most of these laws sailed through the General Assembly with only token opposition. The near-unanimous support that massive resistance enjoyed among Georgia's elected representatives reflected the collapse of the Loyalist faction as an electoral force after 1954. Regulars were enjoying the kind of dominance in Georgia politics they had not had since before World War II, and they used the opportunity to flex their political muscle. They were able to establish a legal framework in Georgia under which desegregation was to all intents and purposes illegal, and anyone who attempted to implement it could expect the state to take action against them.
As uncontested as the rise of massive resistance was, however, it rested on an enormous bluff, which if it were ever called would bring the whole edifice crumbling down. The bluff in question was that for all their talk of defiance, there were only a handful of Regulars who had any enthusiasm (p.93) for actually implementing what massive resistance potentially called for: the closure of the public school system. While Regular leaders were confident that the overwhelming majority of white Georgians would prefer segregated education to be maintained, they were far less confident that a similar majority would be willing to see public education abolished. Massive resistance was therefore only capable of creating the illusion of consensus in Georgia so long as it was a combination of symbolic defiance and rhetoric.
In order to sustain massive resistance, Regulars did everything possible to prevent their bluff being called. First and foremost, this meant trying to shut down the civil rights movement so that civil rights activists would not be able to secure a federal court ruling requiring desegregation in Georgia. In the absence of such a ruling, Georgia would never have to face the choice between backing down from massive resistance or abandoning its public school system. Indirectly, Regulars also hoped that putting pressure on the civil rights movement would roll back or halt the rise in black voter registration across the state. As far as Regulars were concerned, the more black voters there were, the greater would be the share of the state's electorate willing to comply with Brown. To Regulars, keeping Georgia's electorate as white as possible was therefore both philosophically desirable and politically beneficial.
As the most important civil rights organization in Georgia in the 1950s, the NAACP was the organization most likely to be able to secure a federal desegregation order and was therefore the one that Regular leaders were most eager to target. State attorney general Eugene Cook accordingly proposed laws to the General Assembly that would restrict the ability of the NAACP to operate. In August 1956, Cook demanded that the NAACP hand over its membership files and financial records to the state. When John Calhoun refused to comply, he was jailed for contempt of court, becoming the first black southern leader of the NAACP to be jailed during massive resistance.7 In January 1957, Cook backed measures that would declare the NAACP “subversive” to the Georgia Constitution and requested U.S. attorney general (and known civil rights supporter) Herbert Brownell to declare the NAACP a subversive organization nationwide.8 Later that summer, in a clear attempt to cripple the organization financially, state revenue commissioner T. V. “Red” Williams presented the NAACP with a demand for eleven years' worth of back taxes.9 Collectively, these and other measures showed how keen Regular leaders were (p.94) to put an end to the legal challenges to Georgia's segregation laws. For a while, their efforts appeared successful. In May 1956, the NAACP announced it was dropping Aaron v. Cook, the lawsuit challenging racial discrimination in education it had pursued for six years.10 The following year, black educator Horace Ward gave up on his attempt to integrate the University of Georgia law school. By the end of 1957, there were no extant lawsuits calling for the enforcement of Brown in Georgia.11
The simultaneous attempts to crack down on black voter registration were a continuation of the efforts sponsored by Herman Talmadge in the 1940s. Regulars were able to do the most damage to voter registration efforts in rural Georgia, particularly in the Black Belt. A combination of legal measures that made it tougher for anyone whom the registrar did not want to vote to register, economic intimidation from white landowners and businessmen, and outright physical violence persuaded many civil rights activists to abandon voter registration drives. The impact of this was reflected by the fact that after 1952 rural Georgia lagged behind even Mississippi and Alabama in the share of its black population that was registered to vote.12 Perhaps the most brutal incident that illustrated the risks facing black activists in Georgia during massive resistance was the murder of Thomas Brewer in Columbus four weeks before the Southern Manifesto was presented to Congress. The shooting of Brewer, the head of the local NAACP and a critical figure in initiating the lawsuit that overturned Georgia's white primary, caused civil rights activists in Columbus to back off their voter registration drive.13
Ultimately, however, Regulars were only able to slow down or restrict black activism; they could not stop it entirely. The potential for a desegregation order therefore remained a threat. As a result, Regulars also had to worry about the reaction of the white population if such an order were ever issued. In particular, Governor Griffin and Attorney General Cook were worried that the school boards in and around Atlanta might, if given the option, agree to comply with Brown rather than close their schools. If this happened, it would undermine, perhaps fatally, the statewide unity on which massive resistance depended in order to succeed. Accordingly, Griffin and Cook set about making desegregation a practical impossibility. Their aim was to create a set of laws such that even if a local school board wanted to comply with Brown, it would not legally be able to do so. In taking these steps, supporters of massive resistance were tacitly admitting that they did not believe their white constituents were quite as united (p.95) in their commitment to white supremacy as the Southern Manifesto had implied.
The Regulars' preferred plan in response to a desegregation order remained the replacement of the public school system with state-subsidized private schools. The 1954 amendment had made such a plan constitutionally possible, and in February 1956 the General Assembly approved the funds for it. In January 1957, Governor Griffin requested and received the power to suspend compulsory attendance laws when desegregation was ordered, as well as the authority to deploy troops to prevent desegregation taking place.14 With federal court rulings in the fall of 1958 striking down attempts by Arkansas governor Orval Faubus to prevent desegregation, further laws were adopted in 1959 in Georgia to shore up massive resistance. These new laws mandated Governor Vandiver to close any school ordered to desegregate, provided state funding for school boards to hire legal counsel to defend segregation, and denied school districts the right to use taxpayers' money to operate desegregated facilities.15
The rationale behind these measures was similar to that of the “Doomsday Device” director Stanley Kubrick imagined in Dr. Strangelove.16 In order to make massive resistance credible, it required laws that contained universal, automatic sanctions if desegregation were ever attempted. The chance that someone might waver in their commitment to massive resistance was thereby eliminated. This concentration of powers in the hands of the governor and the requirement that he use them illustrated the lack of faith massive resistance leaders had in local officials in some parts of Georgia, most especially the state capital. Sometimes this lack of faith led to even more alarming suggestions, such as the law proposed by Cook that would have made complying with any desegregation order in Georgia a capital offense.17
Ensuring that the state had the authority to implement massive resistance removed the threat that Loyalist leaders at the local level might agree to desegregation. In order to shore up popular support for their agenda among voters generally, Regulars resorted to political carrots rather than sticks. Aware that a sizable portion of Georgia's voters were now expecting far more from their state government in terms of public services, Regular governors co-opted parts of the Loyalist agenda to appeal to them. The hope was that such a strategy would win the backing of voters who were supportive of racial traditionalism but who also expected economic modernization.
(p.96) Accordingly, while Marvin Griffin's and Herman Talmadge's public stances on race were very similar to Gene Talmadge's, both Griffin and the younger Talmadge had a very different attitude toward the role of government. Both had raised taxes in order to fund extra spending on public education. Griffin had promised not to raise taxes during his 1954 campaign, but the public pressure for raising teachers' pay and increasing school funding proved too strong to resist.18 The cause of this change in outlook from the Regular administrations of the 1930s can be traced to three overlapping motivations. First, some Regulars agreed with the Loyalist belief that a good public education system would provide economic benefits. Roy Harris was a good example of this mind-set, though he believed such benefits could also be achieved in a segregated system.19 A second motivation was a concern that the “separate but equal” school system would be struck down unless some effort was made to genuinely equalize white and black facilities. As white parents would not likely support a reduction in resources for their schools, this meant spending more money on education generally. Herman Talmadge subscribed to this view. Finally, there was the politically pragmatic belief that the state's electorate would only be reliably supportive of the Regulars' racial agenda if they were guaranteed a sound educational system. This was the view of former state party chairman James S. Peters, who warned Harris in a public letter that if the schools were not kept open and well-funded, voters would turn to Loyalist candidates instead.20 This final concern represented a further dilemma for supporters of massive resistance and exposed a division within the Regular leadership. The more pragmatic Regulars, such as Peters, Ernest Vandiver, and, eventually, Herman Talmadge, were inclined to hold out against desegregation as long as they possibly could, but were wary of the political consequences of closing the public school system. By contrast, Regular hardliners such as Harris and Charles Bloch were determined that the “no, not one” promise of Vandiver's 1958 campaign must be upheld even at the cost of ending public education.
That even the leadership of the massive resistance movement was divided over whether to carry out its threats if push came to shove was a further sign of just how superficial the unity of white opinion in Georgia was after the Brown decision. But even if the Regulars had been entirely united, there was no realistic chance that they could forever suppress the political divisions that had been evident in the 1940s. This is not to say (p.97) that their efforts to do so were without impact. Although neither the civil rights movement nor Loyalist Democrats could be eliminated as a political presence, they were firmly on the back foot during the late 1950s. Nor was it the case that massive resistance was inevitably bound to fail. To bring it down, the civil rights movement had to be proactive in forcing Georgia to choose between public schools and segregation, and whites supportive of economic modernization had to find a politically viable way to advocate open schools. At its core, massive resistance may therefore have been a high-stakes bluff, but it was still one that required its opponents to have a hand strong enough to enable them to call it.
Marching along Auburn Avenue: Black Activism during Massive Resistance
Historian Stephen Tuck describes the 1950s as “years of retrenchment” for the civil rights movement in Georgia.21 In terms of the scope and style of the black activism that took place during the years of massive resistance, this characterization cannot be disputed. Whereas the 1940s had seen voter registration drives and desegregation campaigns all across Georgia, once the Regulars gained control of the levers of power civil rights activity stalled or fell away in much of the state outside of Atlanta and Savannah.22 Even Atlanta's black leadership seemed to have been cowed by the presence of massive resistance in the mid-1950s. Such was certainly the impression created by dropping the pending lawsuits against segregated schools and not filing any new ones.23 Nonetheless, even though black activism was more muted and less widespread than in the 1940s, that which did occur was still central to bringing down massive resistance and for setting the stage for the renewed momentum of black protests in the 1960s.
For most of the 1950s, the Auburn Avenue Strategy was the preferred strategy of Georgia's black leadership. That it emerged as such was largely because massive resistance had closed off most other approaches. The Auburn Avenue leadership operated on the premise that there were enough white Georgians who would accept gradual desegregation if the alternative was closed schools—an assessment that turned out to be accurate. As such, limited though black activism was in the 1950s, it proved sufficient to call the Regulars' bluff by securing court rulings that guaranteed (p.98) a showdown over massive resistance. In addition, the rising number of black voters in urban areas also created a powerful incentive for white politicians in Georgia's cities to moderate their opposition to racial change. These were both immensely significant achievements. At the same time, the relatively slow pace of change that the Auburn Avenue approach accepted fueled a sense of frustration among younger black activists that in turn widened the generational divide in Georgia's civil rights movement. Having played a pivotal role in undermining massive resistance, Auburn Avenue's leaders also found that support for their gradualist style of politics was also under threat as a result.
A. T. Walden, who was nearly seventy years old by the time of the Brown decision, remained the embodiment of the Auburn Avenue leadership. Walden was still primarily interested in focusing his activism on voter registration and on increasing black influence in the Democratic Party. Walden hoped to demonstrate to Loyalists that black voters were a powerful voting bloc, but that they were willing to pursue gradual change when it came to race relations and were therefore an electoral asset rather than a threat. Accordingly, it was important not to push too hard on school desegregation. Although Walden ultimately hoped that the Brown decision would be implemented, he was willing to hold back on demands that it be enforced so as not to destabilize his relations with Loyalist leaders. As head of the ANVL and a key member of several other statewide civil rights groups, Walden therefore pursued an agenda that focused on registering more black voters and getting elected officials to listen to black concerns while not rocking the boat by pushing for radical racial change. This made him an ideal political conduit to the black community for the Loyalist leadership, and Walden was in turn rewarded by increasing influence within Loyalist circles.
Within Atlanta, Walden hoped to parlay the rising number of black voters into political influence. The ANVL's endorsement, which had been growing in value since 1949, became ever more coveted, just as Walden had hoped it would. By the mid-1950s, Loyalist candidates were actively seeking an audience with the ANVL. Luther Alverson, a former state legislator and candidate for reelection to the Fulton Superior Court, wrote to Walden in August 1956 expressing his “pleasure” at being invited to an ANVL meeting and stressed his keenness to attend. Randy Dodd, a candidate for FultonCounty sheriff, replied to Walden's invitation with a somewhat clumsily worded attempt to thank Walden for informing “your (p.99) people” about civic affairs, but also with the request for ANVL support on account of Dodd's promise to “render a service to all people as all people elect me. I will be impartial and fair to all regardless of race, creed or color”24
This level of interaction with white candidates was a far cry from arranging furtive encounters in hotel service elevators, and public contacts between black voters and white political candidates soon become more routine than remarkable—a development reflected in the matter-of-fact tone of the report sent to Walden on the ANVL's “screening” of three mayoral candidates and twenty-eight hopefuls for city council in August 1961.25 The growing presence of black voters virtually required white candidates to pay attention and thus raised the incentive for them to court black support. This was a politically simple calculation, but it had significant consequences for how white politicians would react to black concerns. As Robert Thompson, housing director of the Atlanta Urban League, sardonically noted, “when we got more vote[s], we made a whole lot of Christians out of the white people.”26
Walden enthusiastically supported the quiet revolution in interracial political dialogue that black voter registration produced, but he was more circumspect on the more sensitive question of school desegregation. While Walden supported Brown in principle, he was willing to acquiesce to white leaders' requests for time to consider their response. His attitude on this was evident even before the Brown ruling was handed down. A February 1954 report of the ANVL's Committee on Objectives set out Walden's priorities. The report called for the creation of an interracial Council on Human Relations, black membership of several citywide bodies, and the right for blacks to apply for such city jobs as fireman and sanitary inspector. On the question of the likely ruling on Brown, however, the report suggested nothing further than an “initiation of studies on procedures for implementing the pending decision of the U.S. Supreme Court on public schools.”27 The following year, when Walden requested a meeting with Mayor Hartsfield to discuss ANVL concerns, the list of topics that Walden proposed included parks policy, the proposed Council on Human Relations, and the appointment of black firemen, but said nothing about schools.28
Hartsfield and other Loyalists were quite happy to discuss Walden's agenda items. They were also quite happy to “study” indefinitely the issue of desegregating Atlanta's schools, as it meant neither formally rejecting (p.100) nor actually implementing the Brown decision—the perfect color-blind position. Walden even went so far as to promise to hold off on any legal action for the duration of the “study” the Atlanta school board promised it would hold—a move that caused considerable frustration among younger black leaders who wanted things to move faster. The eventual report on Brown from the Atlanta school board was not released until September 1957, more than three years after the ruling. Even then, while not vowing resistance, the board concluded that more time would be needed to draw up an implementation plan.29 Walden's approach on school desegregation further legitimized him as a black leader to do business with in the eyes of Loyalists, but was doing little to challenge the status quo on education.
Even by the standards of the Auburn Avenue Strategy, Walden's approach was conservative. Yet, as he was reluctant to change course, it fell to others within the Auburn Avenue establishment to adopt a more assertive approach. John Calhoun was among those who called for a more confrontational strategy to achieve school desegregation, albeit one that still focused on the courts. Calhoun personally took the lead in initiating a new lawsuit against segregation in Atlanta's schools that ultimately secured the crucial federal court order demanding compliance with Brown. Rumors of Calhoun's intentions were circulating in the media by the end of 1957, and in January 1958 Calhoun v. Latimer was filed, calling for Atlanta to desegregate its high schools.30 Calhoun's role in bringing this suit was almost certainly a contributory factor to his being specifically targeted by state officials in their campaign against the NAACP. Such interference was to no avail. Despite Eugene Cook's efforts on behalf of the state to keep the suit out of the federal courts, the attorney general was formally rebuffed in May 1958. The eventual outcome was just what Calhoun had hoped for. In June 1959, federal judge Frank Hooper ruled that Atlanta must draw up a desegregation plan by December 1 of that year.31
Hooper's ruling was only one of several legal developments in 1959 that made it clear Georgia would soon have to decide whether to implement its massive resistance laws. Also in 1959, a separate case brought by a black applicant to Georgia State College resulted in a ruling that segregation in Georgia's higher education system must be ended.32 Separately during that summer, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes began the process of attempting to desegregate the University of Georgia, which would eventually become the case (Holmes v. Danmer) over which the fate of (p.101) massive resistance in the state would be decided. Although it took a further two years of lawsuits, political maneuvers, and federal court rulings before the final confrontation took place, it was clear from 1959 onward that a showdown over massive resistance was unavoidable—a showdown that would not have occurred had it not been for black political activism.
However limited and cautious the Auburn Avenue Strategy had therefore been, it nonetheless succeeded in two critical respects. It made black voters in Georgia a sufficiently large group that white politicians in the urban parts of the state could not afford to ignore them, and it generated a court ruling on Brown that forced both Regulars and Loyalists to take positions—against public education and for desegregation, respectively—that they would have preferred to avoid. This may have been as much as could reasonably have been hoped for amid the hostile context of massive resistance, but there was no hiding the fact that in an effort to gain access to mainstream political channels, the Auburn Avenue leaders had been reluctant to confront segregation via direct-action protests. This was arguably good politics, but it was not producing change fast enough for a younger generation of black Georgians.
Even as the showdown with massive resistance loomed, this generational tension became evident. Some of the old guard acknowledged that this was inevitable. Jacob Henderson, who had been so critical to launching the ANVL in the 1940s, reflected that “at that particular time , I was a little too old” to be leading the charge against Jim Crow. Instead, Henderson said, much of the older generation looked at the student movement and concluded, “Well, that's their ballgame.”33 A less sentimental message was conveyed by one black man, who wrote to Walden in 1961 that he was no longer willing to defer to the ANVL's leadership: “You guided us when we were mere political babes. This we appreciate, but we are big boys now and wish to think for ourselves, if you don't mind.”34 Even after massive resistance collapsed, the Auburn Avenue Strategy that Walden and Calhoun had pursued would continue to be influential among black Georgians, especially those who aspired to close links with white political leaders. But it would never again be as dominant as it had been during the 1950s. Massive resistance had made it the only sustainable option as far as many black leaders were concerned. As cracks in the Regulars' dominance began to appear after 1960, more confrontational approaches began to dominate the civil rights movement in Georgia.
Until the civil rights movement's legal successes in 1959, political opposition to massive resistance from white Georgians was minimal. This is not to say that massive resistance had uncritical support—the 45 percent who voted against the private schools amendment in 1954 can at least be marked down as representing voters with reservations—but so long as the possibility persisted that massive resistance might succeed in thwarting the Brown ruling without having to close the public schools, few political figures were willing to speak out against it. Like the civil rights movement, open political opposition to the Regular agenda was confined largely to urban and suburban areas of the state, particularly Atlanta. Even there, outright opposition to massive resistance was a minority view until school closings became a real proposition. Nonetheless, although their voices were small in number and would need the civil rights movement to push the situation to a crisis before they could be heard, the few Loyalists willing to speak out and the leaders of the reemerging Republican Party were laying down important markers for future political contests—particularly in the way both drew on the rhetoric of color blindness to try and carve out a political position from which they could challenge the Regular agenda.
The political impotence of Georgia's Loyalists in the years after 1954 was vividly illustrated by the “men's room walkout” in the General Assembly that left state representative Hamilton Lokey of Fulton County as the accidental hero of the anti-Regular forces. Lokey was part of a group that became known to their opponents as the “sinister seven.” These seven legislators were the only reliable votes in the General Assembly against massive resistance laws. In the early months of 1956, these seven men—Lokey, James MacKay, Muggsy Smith, and Fred Bentley from Atlanta and its suburbs; Bill Gunter and Bill Williams from Gainesville in north Georgia; and Bernard Nightingale from Brunswick on the Atlantic coast—were growing frustrated at their lack of political influence.35 They found themselves repeatedly casting token votes in opposition to interposition resolutions and laws enabling school closures, none of which made any difference to the final outcome. On one occasion, they decided as a group to stay in the men's room during a vote rather than engage in a futile gesture of opposition. The idea was to portray the General Assembly as a toothless rubber stamp for Governor Griffin. Unfortunately, nobody told (p.103) Lokey of the plan, and so, with his colleagues hiding in the bathroom, he appeared in the chamber to cast the lone “no” vote for the day.36
Over the following days, Lokey attracted a brief flurry of attention from the anti-massive resistance sections of the media, which praised his nerve and heroism without mentioning the unintentional nature of it. As flattering as Lokey found the adulation, the farcical context of how it came to pass demonstrated how eager opponents of massive resistance were to find and lionize Democratic politicians willing to criticize it but also just how weak this opposition was within the Democratic Party: when your collective might can be comfortably accommodated in a handful of toilet stalls, it is hard to mount much of a challenge. Nonetheless, while Lokey may have become an accidental leader for Loyalists, he was actually well suited for the role, not only because he was genuinely passionate about the risk that he believed massive resistance posed to public education but also because he was not a radical figure operating on the ideological fringes of Georgia politics. Lokey was a fairly conventional Loyalist, albeit with a willingness to engage in unconventional behavior, and an ideal man to carry the flag for Loyalists during what amounted to their wilderness years.
Lokey had been elected to the Georgia House in 1952 following the retirement of his friend, Luther Alverson. A war veteran and attorney, Lokey was ideologically disposed toward the “good government” outlook that represented the dominant strain of Loyalist thought. Like many others in that school of thought, he was somewhere between lukewarm and skeptical toward labor unions. In fact, his first campaign for the General Assembly was in opposition to a man Lokey later referred to as the “labor representative” backed by the local unions.37 Like many good government advocates, his political priorities were education, economic progress, and political reform, not racial justice or redistribution of wealth.
Lokey's objections to massive resistance stemmed from his belief that it represented an outdated mind-set, not an immoral one. Prior to 1954, this had been a familiar Loyalist argument, but in the years thereafter, few political figures were willing to make this case. Lokey was therefore exceptional not for what he thought, but for his willingness to say it in public. The strongest public expression of Lokey's views appeared in February 1956 in the “Public Schools Declaration” he coauthored with his fellow member of the “sinister seven,” James MacKay. The “Declaration” was published in opposition to the imminent adoption of the private schools (p.104) plan. It opposed the private schools plan by stressing the importance of education, not the need for racial justice.
The “Declaration” began by warning that “anything that harms the public schools does irreparable harm to the future of our children and our state.” In line with color-blind thinking, the “Declaration” also took a swipe at the effort to suppress the discussion of other issues by appealing to race, saying that attempts were under way to “deny the rights of peaceful assembly, petition, or open discussion.” In acknowledgment of the popularity of segregation, the “Declaration” concluded with a general endorsement of “our traditional way of life” but warned against using this as a justification for ending public education.38 This was partly intended as political cover. Just as Regulars worried about being seen as antieducation or antigrowth, so Lokey and others worried about being seen as anti-segregation. Defending the “traditional way of life” reflected a continuing Loyalist willingness, eagerness even, to pledge support for segregation so long as it did not threaten public education. As Everett Millican, the Loyalist state senator from FultonCounty, put it, “I was as much for segregation as anyone; but if it had to be a choice between segregation and not having the kids go to school, then, I was in favor of letting the kids go to school.”39
That the “Declaration” omitted any mention of race, support for Brown, or support for desegregation generally was a typical tactic for advocates of progressive color blindness. Looking back on it later in life, Lokey conceded this was a deliberate ploy, confirming it had been his intention for the “Declaration” not to “say one word about integration or desegrega-tion”40 While this made good political sense at the time, in his autobiography Lokey nonetheless admitted to being horrified at just how hesitant he and his Loyalist colleagues had been in the 1950s: “As I reread today the speech[es] I made … I am appalled at how gingerly I tried to make my points, at how careful I was to use language that would not offend.”41 Looking back from the perspective of today, the Loyalist opposition to closing the schools does indeed seem rather timid and meek. In this regard, it was, like the caution of the Auburn Avenue leaders, a sign of the minimal political space that opponents of massive resistance believed they had to work in.
And yet even though Lokey's stance—carefully inoffensive as it was—did not resonate with many Georgians initially, the “open schools” argument that lay at the heart of the “Declaration” would be the one that (p.105) brought down massive resistance a few years later. It paved the way for, and helped rationalize, token desegregation as an alternative to massive resistance. In 1956, with no looming crisis over school closures, Lokey's arguments attracted little support. However, by the end of 1958, with Calhoun v. Latimer working its way through the courts, Lokey and other Loyalists found that their open schools position was gaining more sympathetic responses from their audiences.42 After the federal court rulings in 1959, such sympathy and support grew exponentially. Lokey, MacKay, and the rest of the “sinister seven” became key figures in mobilizing public opinion against massive resistance. By 1962, the open schools position had become popular enough among Georgia Democrats that Carl Sanders, a state senator from Augusta, drew on it to win a landslide victory in the Democratic primary. This result must have been particularly satisfying to Lokey, given that it came at the expense of former governor Griffin, who in 1956 had appeared to be in complete control of the political landscape.
Writing of these events some forty years later, Lokey claimed always to have suspected that support for open schools was far more widespread in the state than the handful of Loyalists who joined him in speaking out in 1956.43 Subsequent events certainly suggested this was the case, but Loyalists alone cannot take the credit for this. Although the one-party system had long rendered it a politically irrelevant group, during the 1950s the Georgia Republican Party began to experience a steady gain in support. Most of this new support was coming from high-income, highly educated, urban and suburban parts of the state, and it was being drawn toward a form of Republicanism that also rejected massive resistance: a form of Republicanism based on winning power through a “suburban strategy.” Although Georgia's Republicans managed no electoral breakthrough during the 1950s, by developing the broad outlines of the “suburban strategy,” they were laying down an important marker not only for future partisan competition in the South but also for the ongoing debate within the southern GOP over how to achieve majority status in the region.
Electoral disappointment was not the only thing that Republicans and Loyalists had in common during the 1950s: in fact, there was considerable overlap between the core worldview of the two groups. Both were motivated primarily by the modernizing impulse in southern politics, although for different reasons. Both thought that race was a politically disruptive issue and so were drawn to the politics of color blindness, although as a result of different political calculations. Such similarities were (p.106) in part a reflection of the fact that at the time both were pursuing demographically similar voters. Where they nonetheless differed from each other was their outlook on economics and government activism. While Republicans who believed in a suburban strategy accepted that a large part of the New Deal would be a permanent fixture in American life, they were skeptical over any plans to expand government further. Instead, they pitched their appeal to the economic aspirations of individual southern suburbanites—low taxes, limited government regulation of business, independence from urban control, and preservation of what they deemed to be their “property rights” (and property values). They were, in short, Eisenhower Republicans, both literally and ideologically. Their appearance in the 1950s was therefore no coincidence, and it was entirely fitting that they first attracted serious attention for the role they played in securing Eisenhower the 1952 presidential nomination over conservative favorite Robert A. Taft.
In contrast to the adherents of the “southern strategy” who would make up the other major faction in postwar southern Republicanism, race did not feature explicitly in the suburban strategy. This did not mean, however, that race was irrelevant to their political calculations. In many ways, the absence of race in the suburban strategy was as telling as the general absence of nonwhites in southern suburbia. It had not been overlooked; it had simply been excluded as an unwelcome intrusion. The impulse to ignore race was perfectly explicable: after all, many whites who moved to the suburbs during the postwar years were hoping to “leave behind” the racial problems of the cities. Some of them did so for explicitly racial reasons, but many others had more ambiguous racial views. They may have associated integrated neighborhoods with social problems and lower property values, and been unwilling to bus their children to integrate schools, but they would not have wanted to think of themselves as doing so for racist reasons. For some this was a perfectly sincere belief, for others it was rationalization or self-delusion; but either way, politically the effect was the same: candidates who were tagged as going after the “white backlash” too explicitly risked alienating significant numbers of suburban supporters who did not want to feel they were supporting a racist candidate.44
Suburban strategists therefore had an incentive to pursue color-blind politics. Generally speaking—and there were individual exceptions—suburban strategy Republicans wanted to avoid talking about race so that (p.107) they would not be tagged as “too white” (that is, racist) by the electorate; by contrast, Loyalists wanted to avoid it in order to avoid being tagged as “too black.” From the 1960s onward, the Republican Party in Georgia would be divided between supporters of suburban versus southern strategies. In the 1950s, political realities meant that only a suburban strategy was feasible. With Regulars in control of the Democratic Party and the state government, and with no organized Republican presence in most of rural Georgia, there was little to be gained by pursuing rural and small-town voters with an appeal to the white backlash even if Republican leaders had wanted to. As it was, few of those in charge of the party in the 1950s wanted to follow such an approach. For some, this was due to a genuine abhorrence of racial segregation. Nan Pendergrast, one of fifteen charter members of a “Draft Eisenhower” movement in Georgia and editor of the Republican Party newsletter, ascribed her Republicanism to the GOP being one of only two “integrated public organization[s] in the state of Georgia.” According to Pendergrast, “the Democratic Party was the white primary, the very essence of bigotry.”45 Elbert Tuttle, the chair of the Georgia GOP in the late 1940s and later a federal judge who issued several prodesegregation decisions, was of a similar mind-set. Others were less engaged in efforts to change southern race relations, but were still hostile to the massive resistance movement. Among these were Tuttle's successor as state chairman, Bill Shartzer, and the state treasurer and future Internal Revenue Service (IRS) commissioner, Randolph Thrower.
A further important factor mitigating against a Republican endorsement of massive resistance was the influence of black leaders in the party. John Calhoun in particular had the political skills, contacts, and ability to get out the vote that made him not just the most influential black Republican, but arguably the most effective operative within the state party as a whole. Certainly as far as Nan Pendergrast was concerned, Calhoun was far more clued in on how to wage successful politics than many of the other leaders: “he thought we were, all of us, from Elbert Tuttle down, impossibly naive, and didn't know what it was all about.”46 Other black leaders who remained or became significant influences within the Georgia GOP included Martin Luther King Sr., John Wesley Dobbs, and C. A. Scott, editor of the influential Atlanta Daily World. It was thus sound political strategy for Republicans to avoid alienating black supporters.
As a result of these various considerations, Georgia's Republicans focused their attention in the 1950s on the state's Fifth Congressional (p.108) District. It contained more urban and suburban voters than any other district; it had the largest number of registered black voters of any Georgia district; and it was home to a disproportionately high number of high-income and college-educated voters—all groups assumed to be “gettable” for Republican candidates. Based on previous elections, the Fifth also seemed promising. In 1952, its three counties had given Eisenhower 40.5 percent support, which was more than 10 percent ahead of his statewide average. Finally, as it was represented in Congress by James Davis, Republicans could hope to peel off support from Loyalist Democrats who had resented his presence there since 1946.
In 1954, the Republicans made their first serious effort to unseat Davis. They nominated Charlie Moye, an Atlanta-based attorney, as their candidate. Moye was a member of the state party's executive committee and was chairman of the party in DeKalbCounty. In 1952, he had run unsuccessfully for the state legislature in DeKalb.47 During his 1954 congressional campaign, Moye stressed his support for the economic policies of the Eisenhower administration and positioned himself as a business-friendly candidate who would bring prosperity to the district.48 Seeking to take advantage of the sectional tension within the Democratic Party, Moye presented himself as more progressive than Davis but more conservative than the Democratic Party in Washington. In this vein, Moye's campaign praised Eisenhower for having halted the slide toward “socialism” in Washington, while also criticizing Davis as being too reactionary by pointing to his opposition to Social Security and hostility to the United Nations.49 Moye also opposed county-unit voting and called for a two-party system, framing his stance on both issues as representing a modern, forward-looking position.50
As far as race was concerned, Moye espoused a color-blind approach, simultaneously distancing himself from massive resistance while not openly supporting the civil rights movement. Moye spoke out against the private schools amendment, basing his objections not on the need to respect Brown, but on the damage that private schools would do to meritocratic values. Moye said he could not support the amendment, as the end of public education would result in the son of “a janitor” being unable to attend school with the “son of a corporation president.”51 That the Fifth District voted against the amendment by 58.2 to 41.4 percent even as the measure carried the state by 53.7 to 46.3 percent suggests Moye had accurately reflected the view of his electorate.52
(p.109) Despite this, however, Moye still lost to Davis, polling 29,911 votes to the Democrat's 54,069—a margin of 64 to 36 percent. In the absence of any earlier congressional campaign of note to compare this to, it is hard to say if such a showing was creditable or disappointing. It was certainly several points below Eisenhower's support in the district two years previously, but Moye had nothing like Eisenhower's name recognition and stature, so that is not necessarily a reasonable benchmark. At the very least, Moye's showing was not negligible.
Certainly his fellow Republicans were encouraged by it. In 1956, Randolph Thrower challenged Davis using the same themes as Moye. Thrower's stump speeches regularly focused on his opposition to the county-unit system, the need for two-party politics, and the economic growth of the Eisenhower years. Additionally, Thrower rejected the politics of massive resistance and implicitly criticized Davis by promising that “not for one vote, or one thousand votes, or a hundred thousand votes will I become a peddler of hatred and rancor and bitterness.”53 Refusing to engage in the rhetoric of massive resistance did not mean Thrower spoke up for civil rights: rather, he was also hoping to ignore race altogether. Despite the growing strength of massive resistance over the previous two years that should have made the climate tougher for such an approach, Thrower improved on Moye's absolute and relative vote, losing to Davis by 85,292 to 58,777 (59.2 to 40.8 percent). Strikingly, though, Thrower ran marginally ahead of Eisenhower's showing in the Fifth District that year, not just relatively (40.8 to 40.5 percent) but also in total votes received (58,777 to 57,429). This reversed the normal pattern of southern Republicanism in the 1950s, where Eisenhower ran ahead of his party's congressional candidates, and was testament to Thrower's qualities as a candidate. In 1958, Thrower planned to challenge Davis again, a rematch that would have been intriguing given the Republican's promise that he would make Davis's racial views and support for massive resistance his number one campaign issue.54 Unfortunately for the GOP, Thrower was kept off the ballot after the filing deadline was unexpectedly (and discreetly) moved forward by the Democratic secretary of state.55
Even though there had been no breakthrough victory for them to celebrate during the 1950s, Georgia's Republicans could still look back on a decade that had witnessed sustained growth in Republican support. The nature and pace of this growth were evident from the party's performance in presidential contests. From 18.9 percent support in 1948, the Republican (p.110) ticket improved its showing to 30.3 percent in 1952, 33.7 percent in 1956, and 37.9 percent in 1960. In total, there were nearly 200,000 more Georgians willing to vote for Richard M. Nixon in 1960 than Thomas E. Dewey in 1948. Of those 200,000 new Republicans, more than 60 percent were from the fifteen counties that contained the state's most populous urban and suburban areas (counties that accounted for approximately 45 percent of the state's voters). By contrast, south Georgia and the Black Belt, the heart of Regular strength, had 30 percent of the state electorate, but contributed just over 20 percent of the new Republican voters and gave Nixon only 26.8 percent support in 1960.
In the medium term, the growing Republican strength would become a cause of grave concern for Loyalist Democrats. With Regulars in control, however, the attitude for most of the 1950s was to make common cause against the shared enemy. Hamilton Lokey spoke warmly of the time “Randolph” ran for Congress, while Nan Pendergrast freely admitted having crossed party lines to support Baxter Jones in 1952 and Morris Abram in 1954 during their primary campaigns against Davis. She justified disregarding party allegiance by explaining that she simply “loathed” Davis.56 And yet for all the enmity toward Regular incumbents, neither Loyalists nor Republicans had been able to dislodge them from power, even in Atlanta. Only after the NAACP secured the desegregation order from Judge Hooper were the color-blind arguments each had advanced against massive resistance able to gain traction and undermine the white unity on segregation the Regulars had cultivated.
Hope at the Grassroots
As Georgia's moment of decision on massive resistance approached, neither Loyalists nor Republicans were well placed to lead the opposition to closing the public schools. Regulars dominated the General Assembly and controlled the governor's office, which were the two institutions where the decision on whether to comply with Judge Hooper's court ruling would be made. Hooper's ruling had initially included a deadline for compliance of the beginning of the 1960 school year. However, the next gubernatorial contest was not until 1962. This meant that massive resistance could not be blocked through defeating it at election time; instead, it would be necessary to persuade Governor Vandiver and a majority of the General (p.111) Assembly not to go ahead with the very measures they had promised to implement in order to win office.57
Unable to rely on electoral politics to prevail, opponents of massive resistance mobilized through a pressure group: Help Our Public Education (HOPE). Initially formed in Atlanta in December 1958, HOPE saw its membership expand every time the moment of crisis got nearer. By the summer of 1960, it was recognized by supporters and opponents alike as the most significant white organization calling for massive resistance to be abandoned. By the end of 1961, HOPE's arguments had become official state policy, and massive resistance was no more. Although HOPE had not made the end of massive resistance in Georgia inevitable, it had played a crucial role in two respects: it had established beyond any doubt that white opinion was divided on the question of massive resistance; and it had helped create a viable political alternative to closing the schools for Georgia's political leadership.
These were both impressive achievements in their own right and vindicated those civil rights leaders who had predicted that many whites were not willing to pay the price that massive resistance demanded.58 At the same time, HOPE's achievements also came with a significant cost for the goals of civil rights leaders: by advancing a color-blind argument against closing the schools, the decision to allow desegregation to proceed was justified on grounds that were based on white, suburban concerns about education. Racial justice was barely considered. The civil rights movement had forced white Georgians to make an uncomfortable choice about segregation, but white Georgians were able to limit the racial consequences of making that choice.
HOPE's decision to base its campaign on progressive color blindness was quite deliberate. From the outset, its leaders made it clear that they did not want a public debate over Jim Crow versus desegregation, or racism versus civil rights. Instead, they wanted to frame the choice as being between the “reasonable discussion” over public education that HOPE was promoting and the “shouting and hysteria” of massive resistors.59 A HOPE press release from December 1959 made the point even more explicitly: “HOPE … has deliberately steered clear of controversy, re: the pros and cons of the moral issue.”60 Muriel Lokey, Hamilton's wife and one of HOPE's founding members, later justified this silence on the “moral issue” by describing it as so “touchy” that “in the climate of those years (p.112) … we just knew it was a total loss to make any impression on changing anybody's minds publicly by coming out with statements that segregation was wrong.”61 Both Lokeys were evidently uncomfortable about the consequences of this, but they stuck to it as two of HOPE's leading spokespersons. Hamilton Lokey gave a speech in Savannah to the League of Women Voters where he stressed his personal support for segregation and expressly declared that there was no moral issue about race to be considered.62 Although he knew this was a disingenuous claim, he believed it was politically necessary, justifying it to Nan Pendergrast, also a senior figure within HOPE, on the grounds that “halitosis is better than no breath at all.”63
HOPE's desire to avoid discussing race was also reflected in the decision by its leadership that HOPE should be a whites-only organization. This was a painful decision for several of its leading activists, including in particular Frances Pauley, who had vowed never to be part of a segregated organization.64 Muriel Lokey justified the whites-only position as purely pragmatic, explaining that “we just kind of thought that since our job was to persuade white people … it wasn't necessarily our job to take black people around with us.” Lokey subsequently said she believed this attitude had been “naive and immature,” recalling in particular the nervous panic she felt over what to do when HOPE received a check from Don Hollowell, a black lawyer, political ally, and friend of many HOPE activists.65 As personally discomforting as it was to some of its members, HOPE stuck to the whites-only policy. It was a further example of just how race-conscious white southerners thought they had to be in order to avoid having to address race as a political or moral issue.
HOPE's intentional color blindness was also shaped by the broader recognition by southern modernizers that much of their potential support on issues of economics and education came from people who were still socially and culturally traditionalist. By not criticizing segregation, they wanted to avoid alienating racial traditionalists. HOPE made use of a similar ploy in the way it used traditional conceptions of southern womanhood in order to advance its case. The leadership and spokespersons of the organization were overwhelmingly women, and its public image was deliberately feminine and maternal. This was intended to lend credibility to their cause and to make HOPE harder to oppose. By stressing their status as mothers and framing their objection to massive resistance in (p.113) terms of the harm it would do to their children, HOPE was able to present its campaign as apolitical. Furthermore, by portraying themselves this way, HOPE activists were able to present themselves as very “traditional” women worrying about the kind of things that traditional white southern women were supposed to be worrying about.
Accordingly, HOPE was more than happy to have its members presented in the press as nonthreatening, attractive, motherly figures. Muriel Lokey was described as a “petite mother of five”; Nan Pendergrast was “Atlanta's best-looking mother of six”; fellow HOPE activist Maxine Friedman and the organization's director Fran Breeden were, respectively, a “tall, attractive, dark-haired” mother of three and a “chic society matron.” Such descriptions fit perfectly the image HOPE wanted to present of itself as being, in Matthew Lassiter's words, “explicitly apolitical and implicitly maternal.”66
Such an image was also helpful in making sure that their concerns would be heard, because it put Regular leaders in an awkward position. Segregated schools had long been defended as necessary in order to protect the purity of what Mississippi judge Tom Brady had referred to in 1954 as the most “angelic thing” on earth: a “well-bred Southern woman, or her blue-eyed, golden-haired little girl.”67 And yet now, through HOPE, these same “well-bred southern women” were implicitly asking for segregated schools to be abandoned. Their culturally exalted status thus made them much harder for Regulars to attack, and HOPE's activists frequently used this to their advantage. Frances Pauley recounted the shock Richard Russell experienced when she led a group of HOPE supporters to see him. The senator could not believe that members of the Rotary Club and the United Church Women would not support keeping the schools segregated.68 When Governor Vandiver initially refused to meet with a HOPE delegation on grounds of their political agenda, the women accused him of a lack of chivalry, and a closed-door meeting was hastily arranged.69
As politically astute as such tactics were, and while they may have succeeded in persuading many that HOPE's leadership were politically disinterested mothers, the image was patently misleading. To acknowledge the deception is not to criticize it; rather, it is to recognize that HOPE's members were far more politically engaged than their deliberately constructed image suggested. In many ways, this should not be surprising: such a savvy apolitical image was best cultivated by politically experienced (p.114) people. Almost to a woman, HOPE's leading figures were veterans of the hard-fought political battles of the previous fifteen years. Muriel Lokey had served in the leadership of the GLWV for many years, as had Nan Pendergrast even as she was simultaneously helping to reestablish the Republican Party in Georgia. Frances Pauley and Eliza Paschall were veterans of the anti-county-unit campaigns and were well connected within the Loyalist leadership, and behind the scenes was the constant presence of Helen Bullard, who Pendergrast remembered as “a wonderful, wise old tortoise in the background telling us what to do next—as wise a lady as I ever knew.”70
Utilizing the traditional conception of their gender in this way and avoiding a direct critique of segregation by no means meant that HOPE was destined to win the argument, but it made it far more likely that their voices would be heard. There was clearly a sizable constituency that was receptive to the open schools position, but it needed to be organized. Drawing on their previous experience in statewide political activity, the founders of HOPE made themselves the preeminent anti-massive resistance organization in Georgia. The initial meeting of HOPE in December 1958 was attended by just seventeen people, all from Atlanta. By January 1960, the group had presented a petition against massive resistance containing 10,000 signatures and had a mailing list of some 20,000 names across Georgia.71 Alongside Atlanta, HOPE chapters were mobilized in Athens, Savannah, Brunswick, and Columbus, as well as in several other small towns. All of these chapters made lobbying their local state legislators a key priority.72
HOPE's ability to attract support grew with every federal court decision that moved a showdown over massive resistance closer. When Judge Hooper approved a desegregation plan for Atlanta in early 1960, Vandiver responded by appointing a commission under prominent banker and attorney John A. Sibley to recommend a course of action to the General Assembly. This was an obvious attempt by Vandiver to buy more time. The Sibley Commission held hearings across the state, and it was largely HOPE chapters that coordinated witnesses to appear and speak out against closing the schools. Even though the 1,600 witnesses split approximately two to one in favor of maintaining massive resistance, the commission report backed HOPE's position that keeping the schools open was more important than preserving segregation.73
(p.115) HOPE's campaign had made the Sibley Commission necessary, and the commission's report had in turn endorsed HOPE's arguments. This meant that the governor had some political cover should he choose to abandon massive resistance, but it did not mean that HOPE was in a position to force Vandiver's hand. For a start, HOPE was not the only grassroots organization to take a stand on massive resistance; in fact, it was not even the only group that claimed to speak for “respectable” middle-class citizens within Atlanta. A countergroup, the Metropolitan Association for Segregated Education (MASE), also held rallies throughout 1960 arguing for massive resistance to desegregated schools and also claiming the mantle of “respectability” in its arguments. Given that, as Kevin Kruse estimates, white middle-class voters had cast a majority of their ballots for the 1954 private schools amendment, it is very likely that MASE represented a larger proportion of the white middle-class than HOPE did.74 Nonetheless, the very fact that massive resistors had felt the need to organize MASE in response to HOPE, and that by 1960 the divide over massive resistance in the state was seen as HOPE versus Vandiver and the General Assembly, is a good indicator of how successful HOPE had been in shaping the political debate in Georgia. That Vandiver ultimately chose to adopt HOPE's recommendation when the showdown came only further underscored the group's influence.
While it was ostensibly a nonpartisan organization, HOPE should really be seen as an organization of Loyalist Democrats by another name, though it also contained a number of suburban Republicans. The only meaningful difference between HOPE and the Loyalists was that HOPE did not field candidates at election time and had nothing to say on the relationship between state and national Democrats. Otherwise, the two groups were virtually indistinguishable. The arguments HOPE deployed against closing the schools used the same color-blind rhetoric as Loyalists had used to oppose Regulars from 1946 to 1954, and that Loyalists and Republicans had used less successfully from 1954 to 1959. Not only that, but the arguments were often being made by the same people. The leading figures in HOPE all had past experience as campaigning for or deep personal connections to key Loyalist Democrats, and many Loyalist politicians were in turn active supporters of HOPE. In this sense, the personnel, arguments, and scale of influence that HOPE achieved from 1958 to 1960 were a sure sign that the Loyalist weakness after Brown was (p.116) temporary rather than terminal. As the events of the next two years would demonstrate, the Regulars would soon be on the defensive—something that had not seemed likely at the time of HOPE's founding.
Showdown and Aftermath
The location of the crisis that brought massive resistance in Georgia to an end came as a surprise to many, as did the swiftness with which the events played out. Ever since the NAACP had filed Aaron v. Cook in 1950 the assumption had been that Atlanta would be where any showdown happened. Judge Hooper's court orders had all focused on Atlanta, and the premise behind HOPE, the Sibley Commission, and the renewed massive resistance laws of 1958 to 1959 was that the confrontation would take place in the state capital. It was therefore something of a shock when the showdown actually took place in Athens. On January 6, 1961, a federal court ruled that the two black students who had filed Holmes v. Danner in August 1960 must be admitted to the University of Georgia. On January 9, the state's request for a stay of the order was dismissed, which meant that the law as it stood required Vandiver to close the state's flagship university. The governor had at most a few days to decide whether to implement the laws he had only recently championed or to request their repeal. Several days of frantic discussion followed between the governor and his staff, members of the General Assembly, and senior political and business figures from around the state. Then, on January 18, Vandiver appeared before the General Assembly to ask for the massive resistance laws to be repealed. By the first week of February, his request had been implemented.75
Precisely what persuaded Vandiver to abandon massive resistance will never be known for sure, and the benefit of hindsight should not lead us to conclude that it was obvious he would decide this way. That said, there had been clear signs that, his 1958 campaign rhetoric notwithstanding, Vandiver was part of the pragmatic wing of the Regular leadership and harbored serious reservations about actually following through on massive resistance. Just weeks after he was elected, Vandiver had instructed future U.S. attorney general Griffin Bell to evaluate the plans other southern states were considering to see if any would allow segregation to be maintained without closing the schools. Sadly for Vandiver, Bell reached a dispiriting conclusion, reporting back that “none of [the other states] had (p.117) a plan that would work.” In fact, as far as Bell was concerned, “there was no [such] plan” that could withstand judicial review.76
Vandiver's motivation behind appointing the Sibley Commission in the spring of 1960 was similarly indicative of a reluctance to pursue massive resistance to the extent of closing the schools. A further sign of this reluctance were the regular clandestine meetings arranged by Herman Talmadge that Vandiver attended to discuss issues involving desegregation with selected black leaders, such as Martin Luther King Sr. All of these actions suggested that Vandiver agreed with Herman Talmadge and James Peters that closing the schools was, at best, an extremely high-risk strategy. This was in marked contrast to the attitude of more militant Regulars such as Charles Bloch or Roy Harris, both of whom stuck to the position that integration of any kind was infinitely worse than a private school system.77
Clearly, Georgia's Regular leadership was divided over how to react to the crisis in Athens. It was therefore no surprise that Vandiver's decision resulted in heated denunciations from Regulars who accused him of failing to hold the line on desegregation. Public opinion in general was also divided, as the respective campaigns of HOPE and MASE and the debates in front of the Sibley Commission had demonstrated. There is unfortunately no way to know for certain how Georgians would have voted on ending massive resistance in January 1961 had they been given the chance, although opinion polls suggested there was still a majority that favored massive resistance.78 On the other hand, such polls may have been reflecting a “heat of the moment” sentiment. At least this is a reasonable conclusion to draw from the closest thing we have to a verdict on the popularity of Vandiver's decision—the 1962 Democratic primary.
The 1962 primary was the first since 1950 that featured a clear-cut factional contest between just two candidates. Marvin Griffin, making a bid to return to office, campaigned as an unreconstructed Regular. He was opposed by Carl Sanders, who in January 1961 had been one of the first members of the General Assembly to call for the massive resistance laws to be repealed rather than forcing the closure of the University of Georgia.79 During the 1962 campaign, Sanders made his rejection of massive resistance clear, pledging that “while I am Governor we are going to obey the laws, we are not going to resist federal court orders with violence and we are not going to close any schools.”80 Sanders's position was little different from that advocated by James Carmichael in 1946: Georgia needed (p.118) to focus on economic progress and education, and not obsess over racial issues.
Sanders was also helped by having Vandiver's support over Griffin and that Griffin was tainted by several corruption scandals. Even with these advantages, the final result—a lopsided victory for Sanders by 59.6 percent to 40.4 percent—suggested Georgians were prepared to accept token desegregation in exchange for open schools. It was also unquestionably a huge drop in the apparently unassailable Regular strength the results of 1958 had implied. In a further sign of how the tide had turned against the Regulars over the previous four years, the county-unit system had been abandoned for the primary just as it was on the verge of being struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. This made 1962 the first statewide primary in Georgia not to be determined by county-unit rules since 1908. This was heartening enough for Loyalists, but it speaks further to the scale of Sanders's victory that even though his vote was heaviest in the most populated counties, he would have won even if the county-unit system had remained in place.
Aside from the scale of Sanders's victory and the fact that it was the first Loyalist success in a gubernatorial contest since 1942, the most striking feature of the 1962 primary was the similarity between the breakdown of the vote for Sanders versus Griffin and the breakdown for Carmichael versus Talmadge. As figures 5 and 6 show, the demographic and regional patterns in the results had barely changed. Like Carmichael, Sanders won the state's largest (67.5 percent), fastest-growing (63.3 percent), most-educated (66.4 percent), and richest (67.5 percent) counties. He also won in urban areas (70.4 percent) and in north Georgia (57.7 percent), as well as in counties with the smallest black populations (62.8 percent). Like Talmadge in 1946, Griffin won the smaller (58.1 percent), less-educated (57.1 percent), poorer (58.9 percent), and slowest-growing (56.7 percent) counties. Griffin also carried the Black Belt (55.6 percent) and south Georgia (53 percent), along with those parts of the state with the highest black population (55.2 percent).
Overall, Sanders outperformed Carmichael by around 8.2 percent of the bifactional vote statewide, which was close to his improvement over the Loyalists' 1946 showing in most of the demographic and regional categories (a notable exception was south Georgia, where Sanders improved on Carmichael's showing by over 12 percentage points and polled 47 percent—an exceptionally high score for a Loyalist). (p.119)
Nonetheless, this did not mean that the status quo ante had been restored. The end of massive resistance and the county-unit system had generated political momentum for the Loyalists, but it had also provided new opportunities for the civil rights movement and the Republican Party to increase their influence in state politics. This meant that as well as trying to consolidate their authority within the state party, Loyalists faced two additional challenges. They needed to refine their stance on racial change in order to respond to the more assertive and comprehensive assaults on segregation from a new generation of black activists; and they needed to build a party organization capable of fighting off the growing presence of the GOP. What was more, all of this would have to happen while the national party moved ever closer to an all-out embrace of federally mandated desegregation. In the contest over massive resistance in Georgia, Loyalists, prompted by the civil rights movement, had ultimately prevailed, but their immediate reward was to face a politically turbulent decade where race—the issue they wanted to eliminate from southern political discussion—remained center stage.
(1.) “The Southern Manifesto,” Congressional Record, vol. 102, 1956.
(2.) The three senators who did not sign were Al Gore and Estes Kefauver of Tennessee and Lyndon Johnson of Texas. All three had national presidential ambitions (as well as moral scruples over the language of the Manifesto) that would have been fatally damaged by signing it. In the House, seventeen out of twenty-one Texan congressmen (including Speaker Sam Rayburn, who lobbied other members of his state delegation to withhold their signatures) did not sign; three Democrats from North Carolina and one each from Florida and Tennessee also refused. The Manifesto was also not signed by the two Republican congressmen from east Tennessee. For more details on the fate of those who refused, see Badger, “Southerners Who Refused to Sign.”
(3.) Black, Southern Governors, 198; Black dates the period of political dominance of massive resistors as being 1957 to 1965.
(4.) Badger, “Southerners Who Refused to Sign,” 517–519.
(5.) Bartley, Rise of Massive Resistance, 141.
(6.) Richard Russell to Ross Sharpe, April 7, 1959, Russell Papers.
(7.) “Cook Urges Laws to Oust State NAACP,” Atlanta Constitution, August 7, 1956; Galphin, “NAACP Yields Records,” Atlanta Constitution, December 15, 1956.
(8.) Galphin, “Cook Drafts 3 Counters to NAACP,” Atlanta Constitution, January 19, 1957.
(9.) “Georgia Slaps NAACP with 11-Year Tax Levy,” Atlanta Constitution, June 22, 1957.
(10.) “200 Integration Plaintiffs Here Let Suit Die on Vine,” Atlanta Constitution, May 18, 1956.
(11.) Bates, “Ward Drops University Entry Fight,” Atlanta Constitution, June 6, 1957.
(12.) Tuck, Beyond Atlanta, 79.
(13.) Tuck, Beyond Atlanta, 84–85.
(14.) OʼBrien, “Georgia's Response to Brown,” 167–169; Bates, “More Power to Fight Integration,” Atlanta Constitution, January 24, 1957.
(15.) Henderson, Ernest Vandiver, 95.
(16.) In this 1964 movie, the Soviets reveal that they have created a “Doomsday Device” (p.270) that will automatically detonate multiple nuclear blasts and thereby make Earth uninhabitable if any attack is launched against the USSR. As the device cannot be overridden once it is in place, it is, as Dr. Strangelove explains, the perfect deterrent against any attack. Eliminating the need for any further action by any individual makes it an utterly credible threat.
(17.) “Cook Would Make Enforcing Integration a Capital Crime,” Atlanta Constitution, April 26, 1956.
(18.) Dubay, “Marvin Griffin,” 106–107.
(19.) OʼBrien, “Georgia's Response to Brown,” 55.
(20.) OʼBrien, “Georgia's Response to Brown,” 243–244.
(21.) Tuck, Beyond Atlanta, 74.
(22.) Tuck, Beyond Atlanta, 84–87.
(23.) OʼBrien, “Georgia's Response to Brown,” 139.
(24.) Luther Alverson to A. T. Walden, August 15, 1956; M. R. “Randy” Dodd to A. T. Walden, August 27, 1956, both in Walden Papers.
(25.) John Calhoun, “Report on Candidates, August 1961,” Walden Papers.
(26.) Robert Thompson, Interview, June 5, 1989, GGDP.
(27.) “Revised Report of Committee on Objectives,” February 13, 1954, Walden Papers.
(28.) A. T. Walden to William Hartsfield, July 25, 1955, Walden Papers.
(29.) Tuck, Beyond Atlanta, 92.
(30.) Galphin, “School Segregation May Be Tested Here,” Atlanta Constitution, December 31, 1957; Wells, “City Pledges Defense in Negro Suits,” Atlanta Constitution, January 13, 1958.
(31.) “U.S. Refuses to Void Negroes' School Suit,” Atlanta Constitution, May 20, 1958; OʼBrien, “Georgia's Response to Brown,” 233–234.
(32.) OʼBrien, “Georgia's Response to Brown,” 223.
(33.) Henderson, Interview.
(34.) Alfred “Tup” Holmes to A. T. Walden, September 6, 1961, Walden Papers.
(35.) Lokey, Low Key Life, 183.
(36.) Lokey, Low Key Life, 183–93.
(37.) Lokey and Lokey, Interview.
(38.) OʼBrien, “Georgia's Response to Brown,” 150–153.
(39.) Millican, Interview.
(40.) Lokey and Lokey, Interview.
(41.) Lokey, Low Key Life, 197.
(42.) “Rep. MacKay Urges Local Control,” Atlanta Constitution, November 17, 1958; Gaines, “Smith Vows Bill on School Option,” Atlanta Constitution, November 19, 1958; “Lokey Backs Whitman's School Stand,” Atlanta Constitution, November 22, 1958.
(43.) Lokey, Low Key Life.
(44.) This summary of white suburban attitudes is based on the extensive descriptions of these mind-sets given in Lassiter, Silent Majority, and Kruse, White Flight.
(45.) Nan Pendergrast, Interview, June 24, 1992, GGDP.
(46.) Pendergrast, Interview.
(47.) “Moye, LeCraw Petitions Are Circulated,” Atlanta Constitution, August 26, 1954.
(p.271) (48.) “GOPs Say 5th District to Elect Moye,” Atlanta Constitution, October 9, 1954.
(49.) Charlie Yates to Judge Gunby, October 12, 1954; Copy of letter from Moye campaign organizer Randolph Thrower and unsigned memo to James C. Davis, October 28, 1954, all in Davis Papers.
(50.) “GOPs Say 5th District to Elect Moye.”
(51.) “GOP Candidate Moye Opposes Amendment,” Atlanta Constitution, October 16, 1954.
(52.) Results for the 1954 amendment are based on the returns listed in the Georgia Official and Statistical Register, 1953–54, 688–92.
(53.) Riley, “Unit Rule, Davis Hit by Thrower,” Atlanta Constitution, October 4, 1956; Handwritten notes of speech by Thrower given in Avondale, Georgia, October 29, 1956, Davis Papers.
(54.) “GOP Selects Thrower to Face Davis,” Atlanta Constitution, September 10, 1958.
(55.) “GOPs Here May Have Missed Out,” Atlanta Constitution, September 24, 1958.
(56.) Lokey and Lokey, Interview; Pendergrast, Interview.
(57.) Technically, there were General Assembly elections scheduled for November 1960, but the strength of local incumbency, added to the malapportionment favoring areas supportive of massive resistance, made this far less plausible than a gubernatorial victory, even with the county-unit system in place. Not only that, but even November 1960 was too long to wait to begin to mobilize public opinion—the showdown over massive resistance was by then only weeks away. Prevailing in that showdown required campaigning long before then.
(58.) Chappell, Inside Agitators, xxv.
(59.) Text of Address to HOPE Rally, March 4, 1959, Pauley Papers.
(60.) HOPE, Official Statement, December 5, 1959, Pauley Papers.
(61.) Lokey and Lokey, Interview.
(62.) Speech by Hamilton Lokey to Georgia League of Women Voters, Savannah, April 7, 1959, HOPE Papers.
(63.) Pendergrast, Interview.
(64.) OʼBrien, “Georgia's Response to Brown,” 227.
(65.) Lokey and Lokey, Interview.
(66.) Lassiter, Silent Majority, 61–62.
(67.) Brady, Black Monday, 45.
(68.) Nasstrom, Everybody's Grandmother, 56.
(69.) Lassiter, Silent Majority, 77.
(70.) Pendergrast, Interview.
(71.) Mertz, “Mind Changing Time All Over Georgia,” 52.
(72.) Nasstrom, Everybody's Grandmother, 55.
(73.) OʼBrien, “Georgia's Response to Brown,” 251–257.
(74.) Kruse, White Flight, 134–141.
(75.) OʼBrien, “Georgia's Response to Brown,” 273.
(76.) Griffin Bell, Interview, September 24, 1997, GPHC.
(77.) An example of Bloch's view can be found in a private letter he wrote to Ralph McGill in which he promised that “the Federal Government may someday enjoin the (p.272) operation of segregated schools in Georgia. It can never compel Georgia to operate integrated schools—never, never” [emphasis in original letter]. Charles Bloch to Ralph McGill, December 12, 1958, HOPE Papers. Roy Harris made several public statements to similar effect; see, for example, his editorial in the Augusta Courier of November 9, 1959, a clipping of which is in the HOPE Papers.
(78.) Henderson, Ernest Vandiver, 140–142.
(79.) Henderson, Ernest Vandiver, 133.
(80.) Cook, “Carl Sanders,” 179.