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Eyes on the Prize
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Southern Political Opposition to Integration

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Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus holding a sign reading "Against racial integration of all schools within the Little Rock school district," 1958.

For many Southerners, the call to integrate public facilities seemed like a sudden imposition from unelected activist judges. And to a number of Southern politicians, a stand against desegregation was a calculated political move to block challengers from the right and to appeal to the white electorate by appearing as strong leaders, defending states' rights against a meddling Federal government. Ross Barnett, the governor of Mississippi, regained his sagging popularity by declaring, "We must either submit to the unlawful dictate of the federal government or stand up like men and tell them, 'Never.'" Alabama governor George Wallace famously said, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." The more moderate governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, had been previously endorsed by the NAACP, but found it politically expedient to resist integration on the principle of states' rights.

In 1956, 101 of the 128 U.S. Congressmen from states of the former Confederacy issued the "Southern Manifesto" urging white resistance to the federal government. That political leadership paved the way for the development of the white Citizen's Councils, which countered the NAACP in the South. While the Ku Klux Klan's activities centered on physical intimidation, the middle class Citizen's Council engineered financial and political opposition to southern civil rights organizations and leaders.

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