1956 March 12

“Southern Manifesto”: Southern Members of Congress Pledge to Defend Racial Segregation


One hundred members of Congress from the South signed the “Southern Manifesto,” a pledge to resist the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which declared segregated schools unconstitutional (May 17, 1954). Notably, three Southern Senate Democrats did not sign the Manifesto: Sen. Estes Kefauver (D–Tennessee); Sen. Albert Gore, Sr. (D–Tennessee), father of future Vice President Al Gore, Jr.; and most important, Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D–Texas). Historians believe that Johnson’s refusal to sign was an indication of his ambitions to become president of the U.S. and his need to disavow segregation.

Southern resistance to school integration reached a crisis in Little Rock, Arkansas, when President Dwight Eisenhower was forced to mobilize federal troops to ensure the integration of Central High School (September 4, 1957; September 25, 1957). And in 1959, Prince Edward County, Virginia closed its entire public school system rather than integrate the schools (May 1, 1959). Other important events in the massive resistance crusade included an Alabama law that was designed to force the NAACP to disclose its membership list, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional on June 30, 1958; a set of five Virginia laws, passed on September 29, 1956, also designed to limit the NAACP, and which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional. And finally, creation of the State Sovereignty Commission in Mississippi, on March 29, 1956, which spied on civil rights leaders and groups.

The Conclusion to the Manifesto: “We pledge ourselves to use all lawful means to bring about a reversal of this decision which is contrary to the Constitution and to prevent the use of force in its implementation.”

Read the complete “Southern Manifesto”: http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/manifesto.htm

Learn more: George Lewis, Massive Resistance: The White Response to the Civil Rights Movement (2006)

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