Title page for ETD etd-0702103-151627

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Finley, Keith M.
URN etd-0702103-151627
Title Southern Opposition to Civil Rights in the United States Senate: A Tactical and Ideological Analysis, 1938-1965
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department History
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Gaines M. Foster Committee Chair
Charles J. Shindo Committee Member
Charles W. Royster Committee Member
William J. Cooper, Jr. Committee Member
Wayne Parent Dean's Representative
  • lister hill
  • j. william fulbright
  • united states senate
  • segregation
  • poll tax
  • lynching
  • franklin roosevelt
  • dwight eisenhower
  • harry truman
  • southern politics
  • civil rights
  • richard russell
  • theodore bilbo
  • tom connally
  • james eastland
  • russell long
  • strom thurmond
  • sam ervin
  • claude pepper
  • jim crow
  • voting rights
Date of Defense 2003-06-26
Availability unrestricted
Contrary to many historical accounts that depict white resistance to civil rights legislation in the United States Senate as relying exclusively on filibusters and overt racism, southern senators adopted a more moderate approach in the late 1930s when they realized that civil rights activism would continue until Jim Crow collapsed. Following strategic delay, a tactical model that enabled them to thwart civil rights advances for decades, they granted minor concessions on bills only tangentially related to civil rights and emasculated more substantive measures, rather than always utilizing the filibuster. The level of northern support for a given civil rights proposal dictated which approach southerners employed.

As southern senators altered their legislative strategy to counter greater public support for civil rights, they also transformed their arguments, crafting their claims to appeal to northerners, who they believed cared little about the plight of black southerners. Southern senators linked their defense of segregation with the nation's founding principles and depicted themselves as the guarantors of the federal system as defined by the Revolutionary generation. At the same time, they limited the use of overt racism that had formerly served as their primary defense of segregation.

Despite the advantages accrued by following a conciliatory approach at the federal level, southern senators proved unwilling to intervene on the state level. This decision undermined their long-term objective of preserving segregation. Unlike southern senators, local politicians did not moderate their actions because they answered only to their white constituents, not a national audience. By not challenging racial demagogues in the South, southern senators allowed the extremism that resulted from "massive resistance," especially white assaults on non-violent civil rights protestors, to flourish. As a result, many northerners by the 1960s began to question the long-standing southern claim that Jim Crow produced racial harmony. Southern senators then abandoned strategic delay and lost their fight to preserve segregation. Had the legislative battle to desegregate public accommodations occurred in the context of black violence in the late 1960s, rather than white violence of the early 1960s, southern senators might have succeeded in defeating the proposal.

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