A fresh assessment on the Southern Manifesto 

click to enlarge 06bookslead-art.gif

The Brown decision in 1954 gave the South a great opportunity to do the right thing, to right a great wrong, by integrating its public schools.

It could've been done. And there were scattered examples of courageous local leaders who got it done. And there were other examples of courageous local leaders who tried to get it done but failed because they got no help, not even moral support, from the state-level and congressional-level leadership.

It was that higher-level Southern leadership that really blew the great opportunity, the great challenge, that the Brown decision presented to the region. For all their pissing and moaning, and shilly-shallying and pettifoggery, those “leaders” knew very well what the right thing to do was, but instead of seizing the moment they turned tail and pleaded incompetence. Instead of using their influence and their ingenuity to get the job done — and they had to know it would be done with them or without them — they did everything in their power to keep it from being done at all.

The golden opportunity was still extant two years after Brown, but it couldn't, and didn't, survive the Southern Manifesto.

If you don't know what the Southern Manifesto is, or which of our congressional worthies signed the damned thing (all the Arkie delegation) and which ones didn't, and what a devastating impact the document had on prospects for peaceable school integration and civil-rights accommodation generally in the South after 1956, you could look it up. And you should. Or you could get hold of “New Deal/New South: An Anthony J. Badger Reader” just published by the University of Arkansas Press at Fayetteville, and read the sad, infuriating story there.

Badger is a British history professor at Cambridge University and thus a most unlikely expert commentator on Southern U.S. politics, but he is wise in the ways of Southern demagogues, from the grass-eaters to the barn-burners, and he isn't one to let them weasel out of their historic responsibilities on the strength of colorful or charismatic political style.

His book is a fresh assessment of Southern politics from the New Deal through the elections of 1970, and it hinges (almost literally so, in fact) on the Southern Manifesto and the damage that blowhard piece of uncalled-for mischief caused. I never quite realized before this book how much the manifesto emboldened the fierier segs at a time when they might have been most receptive to a firm, uncompromising, and positive statement from leaders actually committed to leading.

J. William Fulbright signed the thing, and it's a painful experience still to review the excuses and rationalizations he made ever after. Brooks Hays was immediately and immensely disappointed in himself for having committed what he knew was a serious sin. And you might know it was Faubus, already well along that catastrophic path of expediency upon which he would soon find immortal infamy, who made a special trip to D.C. to persuade Hays and Jim Trimble to betray their consciences and affix their Hancocks, on the ground that only in cowardly unanimity could elective Southern politicians find safe hiding from the duty that the Brown decision imposed on them.

Professor Badger's book is $59.95 in hard cover, but a much more tolerable $19.95 in the perfectly adequate paperback edition.


From the ArkTimes store



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Bob Lancaster

  • Wretched rez

    I had some New Year's Rez(olutions) for 2016 but that ship sailed so I'm renaming them my Spring Rez or my All-Occasion Whatevers and sending them along.
    • May 26, 2016
  • Nod to Bob

    A look back at the weird and wonderful world of Bob Lancaster.
    • Mar 21, 2013
  • On black history

    If you're going to devote an entire month to appreciating the history of a color, it might as well be the color black.
    • Feb 14, 2013
  • More »

Most Shared

  • So much for a school settlement in Pulaski County

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Cynthia Howell got the scoop on what appears to be coming upheaval in the Pulaski County School District along with the likely end of any chance of a speedy resolution of school desegregation issues in Pulaski County.
  • Riverfest calls it quits

    The board of directors of Riverfest, Arkansas's largest and longest running music festival, announced today that the festival will no longer be held. Riverfest celebrated its 40th anniversary in June. A press release blamed competition from other festivals and the rising cost of performers fees for the decision.
  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.

Latest in Books

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: On "Beyond Scared Straight"

    • I need to find a scared straight program for my 14 yr old daughter here…

    • on July 20, 2017

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation