Massive Resistance and Southern Womanhood: Gender Idea(l)s and Women’s Activities in the Segregationist Counter-Movement.
When the Supreme Court of the United States of America, deciding the case Brown v. Board
of Educationon 17 May 1954, declared racial segregation as unconstitutional in public education, segregationist politicians as well as grass-roots activists across the South formed a resistance movement, known by its self-designation as “Massive Resistance.“Particularly interesting is the central role gender discourses seem to play in the segregationist ideology: since the First Reconstruction, the ideological construct of (White) Southern Womanhood has been a battleground for proponents and opponents of desegregation and social equality forAfrican Americans. However, white women were not only mute icons of the “southern way of life” but vocal segregationists themselves who took part in the defense of their idea of the “integrity of the races” and conservative values.
My dissertation explores women’s groups in Massive Resistance: the Mothers’ League of Central High School in Arkansas, the “Cheerleaders” in Louisiana and women’s auxiliaries of White Citizens’ Councils in South Carolina during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Located in New Social and Cultural History and employing aspects of Historical Discourse Analysis, Critical Whiteness Studies and Intersectionality, this project analyzes the connections between ideas, discourses, activities and representations of women's involvement in the movement, and critically examines the interaction between race and gender identities, class/status concerns, and regionalism in shaping women’s views and activities.
Given the paradigm of diminished possibilities regarding public activities for women during the 1950s, I examine which topics segregationist women claimed as theirs to voice and why, how they asserted them most effectively within Massive Resistance's discourse and how women activists (re)produced Southern, female whiteness. Understanding women in Massive Resistance as self-conscious agents within public discourses and media attention, I study their self-presentation and perception by male fellow activists and the media. Finally, my project aims at analyzing the relationship between Massive Resistance and the rise of New Conservatism, focusing on the roles women played for this development, as well as clarifying segregationist female activism’s influence on the emerging Women’s Liberation Movement.