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Motherhood and Manhood: Gender in the White Citizens’ Councils

posted on 17.06.2022, 13:27 authored by Bradley J. Phipps

After the 1954 Brown v. Board judgement found racially segregated public schools to be unconstitutional, more strategic elements within the white segregationist South began to formulate organised resistance. One of the most prolific organisations to form within this milieu was the White Citizens’ Councils, which became a vital part of Massive Resistance. An analysis of gender is central to understanding the Councils’ formation, evolution, internal divergence, and their place within, and influence on, Massive Resistance.

By using gender as a lens to analyse the Councils, this thesis reveals the significance of gender in the Councils’ identity and propaganda. An analysis of overlooked and under-utilised sources, including visual and written propaganda, newspapers, and Federal Bureau of Investigation files, expose undiscovered gendered elements of the Councils. Doing so reveals that from the Councils’ inception, narratives of gender were an important but hitherto overlooked tool in the tactics and strategies of the Councils. Gender identity was key to the heterogeneity of the Councils, being both a cause of divergence and an influence on the ways these differences manifested. Central to this analysis is uncovering the hidden or forgotten histories of women’s activities in the groups: they were a driving force behind the adaptation of the Councils. Case studies of prominent Council women demonstrate their significance in the Councils, revealing individuals with agency who shaped the Councils and Massive Resistance. An analysis of these women’s activities adds further nuance to our understanding of the Councils and, at the same time, sites Massive Resistance within longer histories of women’s activism.

This thesis expands knowledge by looking at neglected aspects in existing histories, moving the lens beyond the Deep South and beyond the 1960s. It reveals gender to be vital for understanding the Council, and central for building a more complete history of Massive Resistance.



George Lewis; Sharon Monteith

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Author affiliation

School of History, Politics and International Relations

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

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Qualification name