Jessica Clawson


The desegregation of American schools in the wake of the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education was often long, slow, violent, and varied considerably based on location, leadership, and community attitudes.1 The national political climate also influenced local responses to desegregation, as grassroots conservatism took hold in the post-war era.2 Although white segregationists made pledges never to submit to racial integration, many southern white leaders subtly and strategically accommodated civil rights activists and the federal government. Their compromises helped preserve white elite priorities while casting the struggle against civil rights activists as part of a national battle to preserve the fundamental quality of American freedom.3 Segregationist leaders who employed this contingency called their strategy "practical segregation," as distinct from the hard-line plans of the White Citizens' Council.4 These more moderate segregationists sought to balance state-sponsored segregation with other concerns for industrial and political development. Believing that direct defiance would not work, they attempted to take control of the pace, timing, and location of desegregation. Proponents advocated measured, peaceful tactics, to keep desegregation from the public eye and minimize outside interference. In Florida, for example, Governor Leroy Collins held this view at the time of Brown v. Board decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.5 Likewise, university presidents across the nation, including those who guided the University of Florida, adopted this strategy.