How Southern politicians defended white supremacy — and made the South poorer

Assistant Professor David Bateman writes with colleagues in this Washingon Post opinion piece about Southern politics before the Civil Rights movement and how the South paid a huge price for its commitment to white supremacy. The three are the authors of “Southern Nation: Congress and White Supremacy After Reconstruction” (Princeton University Press, 2018), which focuses on Southern congressional representatives between 1877 and 1932.'

"When Southern lawmakers arrived in Congress, they treated the maintenance of 'self-government' and white supremacy as paramount," they write. "For this reason, they evaluated all legislation along two main dimensions: its direct consequences for public policy as well as its consequences, direct or indirect, for the racial order. If a piece of legislation had no implications for white supremacy, the South behaved as any other region: Its representatives had diverse preferences and were no more or less influential than their numbers would imply.

"But when a policy threatened the region’s racial order, white Southern legislators’ intense support for this order enabled them to unify and then use bargaining or obstruction to change or derail the policy."

As a result, they ended up voting against many pieces of legislation that would have benefitted all Southerners.

"Southerners regularly opposed bills that would benefit poor whites because they feared that blacks would benefit, too. One example was the Blair Bill, which would have significantly increased federal spending — largely in the South — to pay for primary education to fight illiteracy."

Read the entire Washington Post piece.

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