Rabble Rousers
The American Far Right in the Civil Rights Era

Clive Webb

Connecting civil rights opponents to America's tradition of radical conservatism


"Webb proceeds with a historian’s invaluable insight that the past should be evoked as though the ending is still uncertain. The reader knows the racist mischief-makers were losers. They themselves did not, nor did the authoritative cohort of their day called “seasoned observers.” Armed with research in primary sources that is both broad and deep, Rabble Rousers is admirable in its detachment and empathy while telling a stirring tale."
The New Leader

"Clive Webb meticulously documents how white supremacists tried to crush democratic rights in the name of freedom in the Cold War era, their racial terrorism encouraged by mainstream conservatives whose coded racist rhetoric pushed working-class whites to vote and act against their own self interests. Be prepared to be greatly disturbed by this chronicle of a continuing problem in American history."
—Michael Honey, author of Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign

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The decade following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision saw white southerners mobilize in massive resistance to racial integration. Most segregationists conceded that ultimately they could only postpone the demise of Jim Crow. Some militant whites, however, believed it possible to win the civil rights struggle. Histories of the black freedom struggle, when they mention these racist zealots at all, confine them to the margin of the story.

These extremist whites are caricatured as ineffectual members of the lunatic fringe. Civil rights activists, however, saw them for what they really were: calculating, dangerous opponents prepared to use terrorism in their stand against reform. To dismiss white militants is to underestimate the challenge they posed to the movement and, in turn, the magnitude of civil rights activists’ accomplishments. The extremists helped turn massive resistance into a powerful political phenomenon. While white southern elites struggled to mobilize mass opposition to racial reform, the militants led entire communities in revolt.

Rabble Rousers turns traditional top-down models of massive resistance on their head by telling the story of five far-right activists—Bryant Bowles, John Kasper, Rear Admiral John Crommelin, Major General Edwin Walker, and J. B. Stoner—who led grassroots rebellions. It casts new light on such contentious issues as the role of white churches in defending segregation, the influence of anti-Semitism in southern racial politics, and the divisive impact of class on white unity. The flame of the far right burned brilliantly but briefly. In the final analysis, violent extremism weakened the cause of white southerners. Tactical and ideological tensions among massive resisters, as well as the strength and unity of civil rights activists, accelerated the destruction of Jim Crow.

Politics and Culture in the Twentieth-Century South

Page count: 304 pp.
5 b&w photos
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Clive Webb is a reader in North American history at the University of Sussex. He is the author of Fight against Fear: Southern Jews and Black Civil Rights, coauthor of Race in the American South: From Slavery to Civil Rights, and editor of Massive Resistance: Southern Opposition to the Second Reconstruction. His forthcoming book (coauthored with William D. Carrigan) is Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence against Mexicans in the United States, 1848 to 1928.