More than half a century has passed since C. Vann Woodward penned his iconic monograph, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, and legal segregation continues to compel. Recent works have reassessed Jim Crow's birth, its life, and its aftermath, suggesting that the system was at once more implicated in the reproduction of racist ideas than had been previously assumed, and also more fluid: a variegated landscape of rules and norms that lent themselves to various forms of political, legal, and cultural resistance.
This Article reconstructs Lewis F. Powell Jr.'s thoughts on the civil rights movement by focusing on a series of little known speeches that he delivered in the 1960s lamenting the practice of civil disobedience endorsed by Martin Luther King Jr. Convinced that the law had done all it could for blacks, Powell took issue with King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail," impugning its invocation of civil disobedience and rejecting its calls for compensatory justice to make up for slavery and Jim Crow. Dismissive of reparations, Powell developed a separate basis for supporting diversity that hinged on distinguishing American pluralism from Soviet totalitarianism. Powell's reasons for defending diversity are worth recovering today, not least because courts continue to misinterpret his landmark opinion in Regents v. Bakke, confusing the use of diversity in higher education with the compensatory goals of affirmative action, a project that Powell rejected.
In 1955, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released a controversial film about juvenile delinquency entitled Blackboard Jungle. Georgia Governor Ernest Vandiver subsequently used the film as a metaphor for what would happen to southern schools were Brown v. Board of Education enforced, marking the beginnings of a much larger campaign to re-articulate southern resistance to integration in popular terms. Taking the intersection between discourses of delinquency and desegregation at mid-century as a starting point, this article advances three claims. One, the NAACP’s reliance on sociological evidence in Brown was a strategic attempt to align black interests with concerns over child development popular at the time. Two, the NAACP’s emphasis on child development sparked a pitched battle between civil rights activists and segregationists over the framing of youth and rights in the realm of popular culture, a contest that has so far gone undocumented. Three, Brown did not simply trigger an extremist backlash, but pushed southern moderates to expand the scope and reach of southern criminal justice, a move that increased youth services even as it opened the door for aggressive prosecutions of teenage demonstrators as delinquents in the 1960s.
Few racially motivated crimes have left a more lasting imprint on American memory than the death of Emmett Till. Yet, even as Till's murder in Mississippi in 1955 has come to be remembered as a catalyst for the civil rights movement, it contributed to something else as well. Precisely because it came on the heels of the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, Till's death convinced Mississippi Governor James P. Coleman that certain aspects of the state's handling of racial matters had to change. Afraid that popular outrage over racial violence might encourage federal intervention in the region, Coleman removed power from local sheriffs, expanded state police, and modernized the state's criminal justice apparatus in order to reduce the chance of further racial violence in the state. Though his results proved mixed, many of Coleman's reforms lived on, contributing to the end of public torture and lynching as an accepted mode of punishment in the state. This article discusses those changes, suggesting that they not only influenced the fight for civil rights, but encouraged the modernization of criminal justice in the South.