Title: White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism
Author: Kevin Kruse
Categories: Urban History, Conservatism, Segregation, Civil Rights, New Suburban History
Place: Atlanta, Georgia
Time Period: 1948-1964
Kevin Kruse describes struggles over desegregation in Atlanta and the development of a white grassroots conservative ideology between the late 1940s and 1960s. For Kruse, "white flight" was both a physical and ideological strategy initiated from the bottom-up. Faced with integration efforts, on-the-ground whites often resisted by completely abandoning public spaces and moving to the city's suburbs. Ideologically, whites formed a coherent conservative ideology based on racially coded tenets of individualism, property and homeowner rights, and small government. In doing so, these grassroots efforts often proved successful at maintaining de facto segregation despite official integration efforts.
Kruse charts three phases of this process. In the first phase, working-class whites in the late 1940s and early 1950s felt themselves under siege from integrationists. Working-class whites first turned to organized violence and intimidation, but soon learned that thuggish resistance proved ineffective and instead began to couch their resistance in terms of protecting the integrity of communities and emphasizing their individual rights to live amongst people of their choosing. Meanwhile, those that could afford to stampeded out of integrating neighborhoods. In the second phase, middle-class whites joined the fray over integration of public spaces in the 1950s: schools, parks, swimming pools, and clubs. They again emphasized a conservative ideology that used "freedom of association": the right to associate (and not associate) with people of their choosing. When this line of reasoning proved ineffectual at stemming the tide of integration, those middle-class whites simply abandoned spaces, which dovetailed with their ideological claims of relinquishing any moral or financial responsibility for addressing communal urban problems.
Kruse notes the class division in the white community: upper-class whites had previously observed the integration of public spaces from a distance, safely ensconced in their private schools and country clubs, and even allied themselves with black leaders and liberal politicians in a moderate coalition to promote business growth. In the third phase, however, they were forced into the fray in the 1960s with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the forced integration of their businesses. They struggled against organized sit-in protests and government injunctions to desegregate their restaurants and department stores, and it was during this final phase that the conservative tenets of individual rights, property rights, and privatization crystallized into a coherent ideology. Kruse notes the irony, however, in the effects of ideological individualism in weakening racial solidarity: whites often "jumped ship" by abandoning public spaces and neighborhoods as soon as they felt their property threatened.
Key Themes and Concepts
- Three phases:
1. Working-class shift from extremist violent opposition to emphasis on property rights and individualism in late 1940s/early 1950s
2. Middle-class resistance to desegregation of public spaces via "freedom of association" in 1950s
3. Upper-class forced into fray by desegregation of their businesses in 1960s
- Class division: upper-class whites could simply abandon public spaces and retreat to private schools and country clubs
- Rise of a coherent white homeowner ideology that emphasized property rights, individualism, and privatization.
U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries
by Cameron Blevins
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