Posted on March 26, 2020

From Massive to Passive: George Lewis’s Massive Resistance

Morris V. de Camp, Counter-Currents, March 26, 2020

George Lewis, Massive Resistance: The White Response to the Civil Rights Movement, London: Hodder Education, 2006

There are very few books that cover the white response to the “civil rights” movement very seriously. Professor George Lewis of the University of Leicester (UK) has done such a work. However, the book maintains the flaws of all histories of “civil rights,” which includes a lack of an overarching historical narrative, a deliberate attempt to misunderstand white advocates, a failure to even interview ordinary white segregationist protestors, and a failure to mention just how violently blacks reacted following their “civil rights” victory. At one point in the book, Professor Lewis calls the “civil rights” movement a “freedom struggle.”

Although Professor Lewis mentions the 1948 Democratic Convention which ultimately committed that party to “civil rights,” the narrative focuses on the timeframe of 1954 to 1965 — the years between Brown v. Board (1954) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Admittedly, these are critical years for the “civil rights” movement, but this timeframe should be understood as the time when whites started to resist at the grassroots level rather than mostly ignoring “civil rights” advances as they had been doing hitherto. The biggest strides for “civil rights” occurred with no significant white resistance from the early 1930s until Brown in 1954.

From Passive to Massive Resistance

The term “massive resistance” originated over several days in mid-February 1956 by Senator Harry Flood Byrd of Virginia. When questioned by the press, Senator Byrd initially stated Southern resistance to the desegregation of Brown would be that of passive resistance; over time, it morphed into massive resistance. The South, Senator Byrd hoped, would resist “civil rights” as a solid block until the racial integrators gave up.

Professor Lewis goes on to explain just how difficult it turned out for the South to really unite as one block and conduct “massive resistance.” Although he doesn’t mention it directly, the South comprises four different sub-nations.

The South’s different sub-nations are best described by Colin Woodard in his 2011 book about the regions of North America. They are:

New France: This is the area of southern Louisiana. The region’s founders were French and when Louisiana was admitted to the Union it chose the Napoleonic Civil Code as its legal framework. The state is poorly governed. There are all sorts of environmental disasters, crony capitalist corruption, Huey Long-type scandals, large-scale social breakdowns, etc.

Tidewater: This is the region surrounding the Chesapeake Bay. It is the area in the US with the oldest English settlements. Most of its founding stock consists of the second sons of English knights and their servants. They see themselves as carrying on Anglo-Norman social traditions. Many of America’s senior leadership caste comes from this group to include, George Washington, Robert E. Lee, and George C. Marshall.

Greater Appalachia: The region was settled mostly by Anglo-Celtic pioneers from the English/Scottish border region and the Protestant settlers of Ulster, Ireland. The area is mostly white and mostly poor. During the Civil War, many Appalachian counties in the South counter-seceded. West Virginia is the biggest example of this. Winston County, in Alabama, also attempted to leave the Confederacy and they formed their own regiment for service in the Union Army.

The Deep South: The region starts in South Carolina and extends into eastern Texas. The founders were English plantation owners in Barbados who expanded their social and economic system to the North American mainland. This region has the highest ratio of blacks to whites.

How Massive Resistance Manifested

By the 1950s, legal segregation was something like the old threshing machines that one might see rusting on the prairie of central Kansas. Like such a machine, society-wide segregation could clunk along, but only when the environment was just right. For example, segregation needed a stable demographic, roughly even numbers of blacks and whites, enough of a tax or customer base for two of everything, and public items such as bus transport commonly used by both paying customers of both races at a perfect 50/50 split. When the whites became wealthy enough to own their own cars, segregated busses became unnecessary. Everyone also needed to cooperate to make things work.

When “civil rights” activists ceased to cooperate, leveraged a sympathetic media, and gained favor with a sympathetic Judicial Branch which the NAACP had shaped since the Taft administration, legal segregation started to break apart. And it broke up along the South’s regional lines.

Those in the Deep South, in particular, resisted the longest. Their most successful organization was the Citizen’s Council. This organization mostly consisted of the upper-middle class, i.e. bankers, lawyers, small businessmen, etc. They carried out a metapolitical effort to promote their views and when they could, “deplatformed” black businessmen who supported desegregation across the small towns in the Deep South.

For a time, Virginia closed down its school system rather than integrate. In New Orleans, a group of moms nicknamed “The Cheerleaders” heckled the students integrating the elementary schools. This turned out to be off-putting to other regions of the South, not to say the rest of the country. Obviously, people in the Highland South, where there were fewer blacks, were the least supportive of shutting down schools. In states like Arkansas — which consisted of two cultural regions — the side of the state with few blacks would integrate easily and the side with more blacks would fiercely resist integration. The Southern business class eventually came to support “civil rights.” Segregation was defeated in detail.

Professor Lewis argues that the various Southern politicians resisting “civil rights” such as Senator Byrd of Virginia and Senator Richard B. Russell, Jr. of Georgia had a genuine constituency. Furthermore, white resistance evolved to be highly intelligent and extremely adaptive to changing circumstances as the “civil rights” clash continued. Indeed, Lewis argues, Senator Samuel J. Ervin, Jr. of North Carolina nearly gutted the 1964 Civil Rights Act through “careful legislative plotting” [1]. He almost got an amendment that would have restricted the use of the legal doctrine of separate sovereigns in civil rights cases. His amendment failed, and now those who committed a “civil rights” offense of some sort and were found not guilty in a local court could get tried again in a federal court.

Segregationist violence and bad optics from people like The Cheerleaders eventually tore away at the legitimacy of massive resistance. I also believe that the national shock and grief following the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 paved the way for “civil rights” in that the issue could be framed as a martyr’s cause since President Kennedy had made some concessions to the movement. President Kennedy was also succeeded by a far more capable politician in the form of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

After the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights act were passed, the same senators who had resisted it insisted upon following these laws. “Civil rights” had won a massive social victory. By the end of the 1960s, no white could make a stand against any “civil rights” measure, no matter how rational, and maintain a respectable position in society.

Governor George Wallace of Alabama

Professor Lewis devotes considerable study to George Wallace of Alabama. To explain it simply, Wallace was effectively governor from 1963 until he retired in 1987 — there was a brief time where his wife, then another woman, were governor, but that situation is beyond the scope of this article. Wallace was a segregationist’s segregationist. His career was filled with a number of neo-Confederate and pro-segregation political stunts.

He was unable to stop desegregation. In the early 1960s, he was outmaneuvered by President Johnson on that count, but his career remade the political landscape. “When Wallace won Florida [in 1972],” writes Professor Lewis, “and a poll suggested that his strong showing in the Sunshine State was linked to voters’ antipathy to busing, Nixon’s White House counsel Charles Colson proclaimed it to be the ‘only issue; in the forthcoming election.” [2]

After 1972, the white South was Republican territory and the GOP was a far different party than before. Politicians who’d supported the “civil rights” legislation started to fall across the South. Moderate Democrats moved to end bussing students to far off schools to achieve “civil rights” integration goals. Wallace’s career was also a successful manifestation of something that the Segregationists couldn’t manage in the late 1950s and early 1960s. That is to say, in the late 50s Segregationists tried to show Northern newspaper editors and other notables the morality of their cause. They brought Yankees down to the Delta, gave them all sorts of what we’d call today “race realist” education involving IQ, crime rates, ghettoization, social pathologies, etc. and they failed to persuade. At the end of the decade, Wallace drew crowds and voters across the North. Yankee minds, had, in fact, been changed. Though it might take some time, metapolitics works.

While Professor Lewis doesn’t mention this, it is more likely that exposure to black rioting and mayhem in the North coupled with the earlier Segregationist metapolitical efforts changed minds rather than just George Wallace’s silver-tongued oratory. Additionally, the North started to get clubbed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which is an illicit parallel constitution. Writes Christopher Caldwell:

“The goal of the civil rights laws, at least as they were understood by a sentimental public, was to short-circuit the sham democracies of the American South, to bring them into conformity with the Constitution. But it turned out to be harder than anticipated to distinguish between the South’s democracy and everybody else’s. If the spirit of the law was to humiliate Southern bigots, the letter of the law put the entire country — all its institutions — under the threat of lawsuits and prosecutions for discrimination.” [3]

From Massive back to Passive Resistance

“Civil rights” was more a parasitical racial power-grab than a social contract that specified the rights and duties of the citizen to his society. Hence the “civil rights” struggle rather than Civil Rights. Regardless of the semantics, as mentioned above, “civil rights” won a massive social victory. It created an Emperor’s New Clothes situation whereby whites pretended to support the package of The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., the walk across the bridge at Selma, the speeches, the weeping, the gentle giants, the black children, etc. while they fled its effects.

Massive resistance became passive resistance. Eventually, writes Professor Lewis:

“. . .  the façade of unified southern resistance crumbled into its constituent parts, leaving only those that were sufficiently subtle in their approach, or that had chosen to encode any overtly racist appeals in such a way as to make them palatable to a broader, non-sectional audience, to continue their work and to merge almost imperceptibly into a steadily evolving national climate of conservatism.” [4]

I’ll go on to add that I believe the abortion movement, as well as other Christian social causes that became so powerful from the time of Nixon’s re-election in 1972 until Reverend Jerry Falwell’s death in 2007, were a reaction against “civil rights.” Abortion fights in judicial nominations is a proxy war against pro-“civil rights” judges. Perhaps one day, the Judiciary will be shaped in a vastly different way.


[1] Page 165.

[2] Page 184.

[3] Caldwell, Christopher, The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2020, Page 159

[4] Page 187.