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Paths Out of Dixie
The Democratization of Authoritarian Enclaves in America's Deep South, 1944â"1972
By Robert Mickey
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2015 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
Southern Political Development in Comparative Perspective
What is the State? It is the Democratic party.... Whenever there were political questions involved, ... we looked to the interests of the party, because they are the interests of the State. —Judge Thomas J. Semmes, delegate at Louisiana's constitutional convention (1898)
The conversion of the South into a democracy in the sense that the mass of people vote and have a hand in their governance poses one of the most staggering tasks for statesmanship in the modern world. —Valdimer Orlando Key, Jr. (1949)
On January 11, 1961, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes desegregated the University of Georgia in Athens. Their first afternoon of classes complete, Hunter settled in her dorm room, while Holmes returned to an off-campus residence. Much of the campus—and the state capitol in nearby Atlanta—was abuzz with talk of that night's scheduled disturbance. Politicians from north Georgia pleaded with Governor Ernest Vandiver to dispatch the state highway patrol to ensure that the court-ordered desegregation occurred peacefully. Advisers from south Georgia disagreed; some secretly helped riot leaders in their bid to make the campus unsafe for Hunter and Holmes and safe again for white supremacy. By ten o'clock, a crowd of some two thousand students and locals set upon Hunter's dormitory, where they hurled bricks and bottles and set fires nearby. After Athens cops fended off the crowd with tear gas and fire hoses, state troopers arrived—two hours after police requested help from the vacillating governor. National papers showed U.S. marshals rushing a distraught Hunter to safety. North Georgia politicians were chagrined by the disorder; those from south Georgia fumed at the state's capitulation.
On a late September morning in 1962, U.S. marshals escorted James Meredith across the University of Mississippi campus to the Lyceum—the school's main administrative building—where a taciturn registrar awaited. Oxford's air still stung with tear gas; stray bullets had pockmarked the statues of Confederate fallen. The group proceeded down a bloodstained corridor past exhausted U.S. marshals slumped against the walls, gas masks still strapped to their jaws. A pitched battle had just resulted in two deaths and hundreds of injuries. Alternately encouraged, discouraged, and repressed by confused state and county law enforcement, two thousand rampaging white supremacists had attacked the marshals. U.S. troops numbering 31,000—more than were stationed in South Korea—detained hundreds of civilians and restored order. Mississippi's "occupation" had begun.
Four months later, aspiring architect Harvey Gantt, stepping dapper out of a Buick sedan, strolled confidently across the campus of South Carolina's Clemson College in his dark pinstripe suit, checked coat, and hat. As he did, jostling and commotion ensued. The first stirrings of a riot here in America's last bastion of segregation? No, just shutterbugs jockeying for position. A polite meeting with the registrar, a quick press conference, a few curious onlookers.... Where was the angry white mob? Northern journalists left dejected. State politicians had foiled white supremacists' planned disorder. The New York Times cried, "Bravo, Clemson.... What a contrast to Mississippi!" President Kennedy applauded, too, and discussed doubling South Carolina's defense contracts.
These confrontations among black insurgents, white crowds, state authorities, and federal officials varied greatly, ranging from the breakdown of order in Mississippi to South Carolina's much-lauded "integration with dignity?' This book situates these crises as important moments in a much longer process—the democratization of southern authoritarian enclaves. Having begun in the 1940s, these transitions from authoritarian rule concluded by the early 1970s in the successful democratization of the eleven states of the former Confederacy. However, statesmen had converted them in sharply different ways. They differed in their ability to minimize outside interference with their dismantling of disfranchisement and "Jim Crow" social practices, to make peace with national Democrats, and to attract business investment. In part because they beat different paths out of Dixie, these states today differ in their politics and economics. Apprehending the contemporary South means coming to terms with the legacies of its democratizations.
* * *
In the 1890s leaders of the eleven states of the old Confederacy founded stable, one-party authoritarian enclaves under the "Democratic" banner. Having secured a conditional autonomy from the central state and the national party, these rulers curtailed electorates, harassed and repressed opposition parties, and created and regulated racially separate—and significantly unfree—civic spheres. State-sponsored violence enforced these elements in a system that ensured cheap agricultural labor and white supremacy. These regimes were effectively conflations of the state apparatus with those institutions regulating political ambition. The state apparatus oversaw the hegemonic Democratic party, while the party staffed, exploited, and guided local, county, and state governments. Given the strength of these regimes, their most serious challenges would emanate from without, not within. Enclaves capitalized on their influence in Congress and the national Democratic party—as well as national indifference—to shield themselves from those who might violate their "sovereignty"' For a half-century, they succeeded.
Beginning with the U.S. Supreme Court's abolition of the "white only" Democratic primary in 1944, black insurgents, mostly in the South, inspired, compelled, and capitalized on federal judicial rulings, national legislation, and national party reforms that battered these enclaves. By the early 1970s, a variety of actors—federal authorities, domestic insurgents, and their allies "abroad"—had defeated southern authoritarians. In the process, the central state had supervised the dismantling of disfranchisement, segregation, and state repression, while national Democrats ordered southern parties to incorporate racial minorities.
But the devil, as usual, was in the details. Across the South, officeholders sought to minimize federal supervision of state compliance with civil and voting rights legislation and scores of judicial directives, ranging from school desegregation to legislative reapportionment, from electoral systems to lunch counters. In many ways, minimizing oversight could lower the costs of democratization for incumbents and their clients. How successful were these resisters in doing so? How much autonomy did they manage to preserve? Were they able to democratize on their own terms, or was the process out of their hands? Once the guarantor of southern authoritarianism, an emboldened national Democratic party had begun to interfere with the manner in which state parties treated black voters, nominated candidates, and selected presidential delegates. Did southern Democrats reform racial practices and normalize relations, or did they bicker with the national party, file for "divorce" and then walk away?
Across the region, the eleven enclaves differed in the nature of their compliance with federal directives; the pace and scope of black incorporation into the state Democratic party; and the timing and nature of their reconciliation with the national party. Different configurations of these factors constituted distinct modes of democratization (table 1.1). In one, enclaves quickly submitted to pressures to democratize, or even preempted some of them through "indigenous" reforms. Falling into line with federal and national party directives, these enclaves—usually in the Outer South—experienced an acquiescent democratization. Others sought to delay change, control the pace of democratizing reforms, and minimize the consequences of black incorporation into the Democratic party. To do so, they needed to walk a tight wire from angry defiance to lawful compliance without inducing disorder (and the breaches of "sovereignty" that might follow). Some successfully implemented this strategic accommodation, and thereby secured a harnessed democratization. Others failed, triggering enclave intransigence, massive interventions, and fractured national party relations, and experienced a protracted democratization.
Surprisingly, this variation existed even within the Deep South—a region that remains relatively undifferentiated in the popular imagination and academic mind. As the transitions began in the 1940s, these enclaves featured similar demographics, political economies, modes of governance, partisan dynamics, and commitments to white supremacy. Over time, rulers' responses to democratization pressures propelled these states onto different paths. South Carolina managed a harnessed democratization, Mississippi stumbled through a protracted democratization, and Georgia experienced a bifurcated democratization, in which sectional conflict led north and south Georgia to come to different terms with the feds and the national party.
These different paths generated important legacies that still shape the present. Those enclaves that accommodated democratization pressures garnered greater success in capital accumulation and accelerated their state's economic growth. Conversely, those enclaves unable to do so suffered greatly on this score. Ironically, however, by managing to incorporate blacks and reconcile with the national party smoothly, enclave rulers doomed state Democrats over the long run. Where rulers failed to accommodate strategically to democratization pressures, they unintentionally benefited state Democrats over the coming decades.
Southern regime change has never been examined. This study—a comparative historical analysis of democratization in Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina—seeks to explain one important element of this change: the processes of democratization undergone by Deep South states. It argues that elite cohesion, and the institutions of party and state that equipped and constrained these elites, help account for differences in modes of democratization across the Deep South. (Regime elites are discussed further in chapter 2. For now, by elites I mean powerful authorities in party or state institutions, and other important resource-holders within the regime.) Elite cohesion refers to the degree to which regime politicians and other resource-holders agree that the party remains the best vehicle for pursuing political careers and policy goals, and agree broadly on a strategy to resist democratization pressures. Party-state capacity refers to the degree of fit between, on the one hand, the institutions regulating political ambition and those of the state apparatus, and, on the other, elites' efforts to undertake various governance tasks—especially those necessary for maintaining enclave rule. By the early 1960s, enclaves differed on these two dimensions, and thus varied in how they navigated mounting democratization pressures.
The South's democratization—a complex macrohistorical process occurring amid great social, cultural, and economic change—is the most important development in American politics since World War II. It has contributed to the ideological and racial polarization of the national parties, altered the dimensions on which the parties compete, redrawn the map of presidential elections, and transformed Congress. Moreover, today millions of Americans now practice an entirely different mode of politics. Whereas blacks were once shut out of electoral politics, some six thousand black elected officials now serve southern constituencies. More than 73 million southern adults, native-born and newly arrived, may participate freely in a competitive, two-party system. Whereas Democrats once occupied about 95 percent of all elective offices, Republicans now claim more than one-half of the region's federal and state offices. Thus, understanding how the recent past shapes contemporary U.S. politics requires illuminating the political development of the American South.
This study offers an optic for focusing on the region, and on the United States, in cross-national perspective. The remainder of this chapter describes some of the principal approaches to southern political change, outlines the one used here, describes the study's research design, and summarizes the findings to come. This book is not a study of the emergence of a two-party South—the object of most scholarly and popular attention. However, as a study of Deep South democratizations, it will illuminate how Republican party advancement was in part both a consequence and a cause of these democratization processes.
Alternative Perspectives on Postwar Southern Politics
Scholars have tackled several different facets of the South's recent political transformation. Most political scientists interpret it in terms of electoral politics and in particular seek to trace the contours of Republican advancement across the region and over time. Other social scientists and historians have sought to understand several momentous changes, from the reenfranchisement of blacks and poorer whites to the desegregation of southern schools to the destruction of Jim Crow to the growth of black political power, and so on. In doing so, their explanations have centered on three main types of causes: political culture, political economy, and social movements. While scholars have not studied the post-World War II South in terms of the region's democratization, I review these families of explanations—as well as related arguments by scholars of comparative politics—to see what light they might shed on variation within the region in modes of democratization. Each generates crucial insights, and each points to important differences between the Outer South and Deep South. But none alone suffices to explain the surprising variation within the latter.
Many scholars focus on the period as one of a growing convergence in political cultures between the South and the rest of the country. Here, the region's elites and masses are seen as undergoing great change—especially in terms of white racial attitudes. There are at least two different routes by which political culture may matter for my purposes. First, rapid changes in mass beliefs and attitudes about politics can fuel political change. A variant of modernization theory argues that changing mass values and attitudes can be critical for stimulating public demand for political reforms. In fact, the leading work in political science on postwar southern politics, Earl Black and Merle Black's Politics and Society in the South, offers a modernization account. It and other studies explain the pace and location of Republican advancement by emphasizing the importance of growing southern white incomes, industrialization, urbanization, and other changes—particularly the influx of nonnative whites to the region. These factors produced profound cultural changes, including a white electorate both less devoted to white supremacy and less loyal to the Democratic party, which spurred the growth of white Republican voting. Second, the beliefs, attitudes, and bearings of political elites can often help explain political change, especially short, turbulent periods in which elite agency is thought to be crucial in explaining outcomes.
An emphasis on mass political culture would suggest that states' experiences during the civil rights era might differ given growing levels of the familiar components of modernization: urbanization, education, income, and exposure to national mass culture and communications. As these components increased, the commitment of white publics to white supremacy would weaken, and middle-class whites would pressure authorities to embark on liberalizing political reforms. By the same token, changing white mass attitudes might enable officeholders to embark on political projects they preferred but had shied away from in the past. And urbanization and educational attainment might help empower and embolden blacks and their white allies to mount more serious challenges to the political status quo, and thereby raise the costs for both white elites and publics of maintaining it. Thus, states that modernized earlier—such as those in the more urbanized Outer South—would experience earlier political change. And this change would likely be more peaceful, as pressure on authorities to respond to black insurgency with repression would be diminished. In fact, some Outer South states might enact reforms before ordered by the federal government to do so.
Excerpted from Paths Out of Dixie by Robert Mickey. Copyright © 2015 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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