Civil Rights Movement, Segregation, Southern White Racism


The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s profoundly changed the lives of many young southern White citizens. Southern racism was a product of traditional indoctrination common in the culture of the Old South. During the generations after slavery to the Civil Rights Era, vulnerable White children were typically exposed to racist and prejudiced influences from families, fellow citizens, education, popular culture, and segregation laws established within their communities. The Civil Rights Movement brought forth elaborate legal reforms that broke segregation and enabled integration programs to take place at schools and other public institutions, which ultimately expanded many southerners' cultural awareness of different racial groups. Many accounts on the Civil Rights Movement and its relation to southern White racism are generally confined to narrow descriptions that emphasize extreme resistance measures, such as violence or civil disobedience acted out from members of the White community. Many students who do not study American history beyond the high school or college survey course levels unfortunately learn a limited history about White racism and its relation to the Civil Rights Movement. The sources commonly used in these courses include textbooks, films, and documentaries. Based in part by time and budget constraints, oral histories about White racism are often not incorporated in the classroom curricula. The available sources explain the history of White racism to a limited degree and the fact that it contributed to a mobilization effort to gain civil rights protection for racial minorities. However, they leave out other accounts about White racism relative to the history of the Civil Rights Movement. Many southern White children from this time grew up around prejudiced influences and witnessed blatant racist treatment of African Americans. During their upbringing many of these southern citizens developed solid beliefs in White supremacy and justifiable racial prejudice. Oral testimonies told by them that focus on their racism reveal social, economic, and political details which standard sources do not provide. Their stories demonstrate learned factors commonly found in racism and show how contemporary circumstances, such as living with segregation every day, can impact behaviors. Many common social factors that relate to understanding the roots of southern White racism are often not provided in sources used in most American history courses. Such works leave out a significant percentage of stories from regular White people from the South, and in particular many young individuals, who throughout the Civil Rights Era showed passive contempt, i.e., remaining silent on issues of overt discrimination and racism, toward African Americans as a result of cultural indoctrination. These White individuals' resistances and their youth illustrate a different aspect of prejudice in contrast to the traditional reports on the topic that highlight hate crimes and more stubborn forms of racism. Passivity expressed by these southern White citizens enabled them to reform their prejudices through the encouragement of the Civil Rights Movement. The impact of the era on their thinking offers an important lens that illustrates Civil Rights Movement and southern segregation history. Yet, generally, such perceptions are ignored in many historical works. This thesis attempts to bring out the social and evolutionary elements of White racism in the twentieth century South and the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on White prejudiced behaviors once traditionally found in southern culture that date back to the end of the Civil War and the birth of segregation. In reference to the use of capitalization of certain words I have placed capitals on terms that refer to periods of time such as the Civil Rights Era or events like the Civil Rights Movement. Additionally, groups of people identified with a racial group received recognition with a capital letter. Some of the sources I used from previous eras do not apply capitalization with specific color group terms such as "black" or "white," and I have left them as they are printed in their works. As I explain the evolution of racism and prejudice in the first half of the twentieth century, I also want to illustrate the evolution of racial labeling from the past three decades. For example, textbooks from the early 1990s describe African Americans and Caucasians as "black" and "white." However, texts from the twenty-first century label these groups as either "African Americans" or "White." The purpose of this is to show that many American historians and authors continue to evolve their understanding of racial identification.


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White, Vibert


Master of Arts (M.A.)


College of Arts and Humanities



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Masters Thesis (Open Access)

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