The dominant narrative of the civil rights movement is a story about selfless Whites fighting Southern injustice. Usually the movement is presented as made up of devout Christians and freedom fighters, struggling against the prejudices of ignorant Southern Whites. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is the civil rights movement was plagued by the same forces that plague any setting where Whites and Blacks intermingle: violence, theft, criminality, resentment, and sexual dominance.
White civil rights workers who left the North to organize resistance to Southern segregation approached their jobs with religious fervor. One White woman captures this spirit: “There is no doubt in my mind this is worth dying for. … This love is growing every day and will continue to expand and expand until it defeats all hate all over the world” (Rothschild, 1982, p. 133). Please note the woman’s messianic mentality: she wants to defeat hate “all over the world.”
White civil rights workers were shocked to discover that local Blacks in Mississippi resented and resisted White domination of the civil rights movement. Grassroots Blacks wanted local, Black control of civil right organizations and sought to ensure White men and women were in a subordinated, powerless position (Rothschild, 1982, p. 132). Blacks believed Whites were smug and acted superior to Blacks (Watson, 2010, p. 267). On the other hand, White civil rights workers came to view Blacks as essentially lazy and stupid (Watson, 2010, p. 267). White volunteers were greeted with suspicion and mistrust. Read more