In Mothers of Massive Resistance, Elizabeth Gillespie McRae provides a historical perspective on white women’s roles in white supremacist politics. Suggesting that we broaden our view beyond the violent and masculine dimensions of these politics, McRae asks us to consider the significant work white women did as public welfare bureaucrats, teachers, storytellers, and voters throughout the twentieth century.
Examining racial segregation from 1920s to the 1970s, she argues that white segregationist women constituted the grassroots workforce for racial segregation. For decades, they censored textbooks, campaigned against the United Nations, denied marriage certificates, celebrated school choice, and lobbied elected officials. They trained generations, built national networks, collapsed their duties as white mothers with those of citizenship, and experimented with a color-blind political discourse. With white women at the center of the story, massive resistance and the rise of postwar conservatism rises out of white women’s grassroots work in homes, schools, political parties, and culture. Their efforts began before World War II and persisted past the removal of “white only” signs in 1964 and through the anti-busing protests. White women’s segregationist politics stretched across the nation and overlapped with and helped shaped the rise of the New Right.
In the end, this history compels us to confront the reign of racial segregation as a national story. It asks us to reconsider who sustained white supremacist politics, who bears responsibility for the persistence for the nation’s inequities, and what it will take to make good on the nation’s promise of equality.
Elizabeth Gillespie McRae teaches history at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. Her writings on white supremacist politics have appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the BBC’s World Histories.