Federal Law and Southern Order, first published in 1987, examines the factors behind the federal government's long delay in responding to racial violence during the 1950s and 1960s. The book also reveals that it was apprehension of a militant minority of white racists that ultimately spurred acquiescent state and local officials in the South to protect blacks and others involved in civil rights activities. By tracing patterns of violent racial crimes and probing the federal government's persistent failure to punish those who committed the crimes, Michal R. Belknap tells how and why judges, presidents, members of Congress, and even Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation officials accepted the South's insistence that federalism precluded any national interference in southern law enforcement. Lulled into complacency by the soothing rationalization of federalism, Washington for too long remained a bystander while the Ku Klux Klan and others used violence to sabotage the civil rights movement, Belknap demonstrates.
In the foreword to this paperback edition, Belknap examines how other scholars, in works published after Federal Law and Southern Order, have treated issues related to federal efforts to curb racial violence. He also explores how incidents of racial violence since the 1960s have been addressed by the state legal systems of the South and discusses the significance for the contemporary South of congressional legislation enacted during the 1960s to suppress racially motivated murders, beatings, and intimidation.