Inside Agitators: White Southerners in the Civil Rights Movement

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How did the vastly outnumbered black Southerners in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s succeed against a white power structure that seemed uniformly hostile? Contrary to widespread belief, argues David Chappell, inside agitators - white southerners sympathetic to the cause of desegregation - played a crucial role. Chappell shows how years of experience gave black southerners unique insights into the strengths and weaknesses of their white folks. These insights helped black leaders not only to enlist the help of white liberals and moderates but also to manipulate hard-line segregationists into behavior that was often politically self-destructive. In short, Chappell contends, black southerners defeated segregation because they understood white southerners better than segregationists did. Case studies from Montgomery, Tallahassee, Little Rock, and Albany (Georgia) highlight the movement's successes and failures. Chappell then extends his analysis to the national government to show how white southerners became the chief instrument of federal intervention for civil rights. Based on more than seventy personal interviews as well as on previously unpublished material from the Martin Luther King papers and elsewhere, Inside Agitators provides a wide-ranging and insightful reinterpretation of the civil rights movement and the reasons for its triumph.