Carry It On
The War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, 1964–1972

Susan Youngblood Ashmore

Civil rights, economic justice, and the competition for political power after the Voting Rights Act


"Ashmore's well-written and -researched analysis of the War on Poverty in Alabama reveals how white leaders and bureaucrats subverted equal opportunity programs to serve their racist agenda and how African Americans counterattacked with limited success. Her book is a major contribution to the revisionist literature on the civil rights movement."
—Pete Daniel, author of Toxic Drift: Pesticides and Health in the Post–World War II South

"Carry It On is right at the forefront of the next frontier of civil rights historiography: the period after the passage of national civil rights legislation and the great set-piece confrontations but before the advent of a New South biracial politics in the 1970s. Ashmore shows how the War on Poverty in Alabama was both a training ground for future African American politicians and a setting for the southern variant of Black Power."
—Tony Badger, author of The New Deal: The Depression Years, 1933–1940

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Carry It On is an in-depth study of how the local struggle for equality in Alabama fared in the wake of new federal laws: the Civil Rights Act, the Economic Opportunity Act, and the Voting Rights Act. Susan Youngblood Ashmore provides a sharper definition to changes set in motion by the fall of legal segregation. She focuses her detailed story on the Alabama Black Belt and on the local projects funded by the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the federal agency that supported programs in a variety of cities and towns in Alabama. Black Belt activists who used OEO funds understood that the structural underpinnings of poverty were key components of white supremacy, says Ashmore. They were motivated not only to end poverty but also to force local governments to comply with new federal legislation aimed at achieving racial equality on a number of fronts.

Ashmore looks closely at the interactions among local activists, elected officials, businesspeople, landowners, bureaucrats, and others who were involved in or affected by OEO projects. Carry It On offers a nuanced picture of the OEO, an agency too broadly criticized; a new look at the rise of southern Black Power; and a compelling portrait of local citizens struggling for control over their own lives. Ashmore provides a more complete understanding of how southerners worked to define for themselves how freedom would come during the years shaped by the civil rights movement and the war on poverty.

Page count: 416 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $30.95

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Susan Youngblood Ashmore is an associate professor of history at Oxford College of Emory University.