Southern Manifesto and Brown v. Board of Education

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From the dawn of the inception of the United States, debates and controversy over prejudices and racism have become typical for Americans. A majority of these conversations regard the racism between white people towards African Americans, which has been an ongoing issue since the seventeenth century. This racism has been apparent in several ways, a notable example being the Southern Manifesto. This document was written in 1956 in response to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. The Brown decision established that segregating schools on the basis of race was unconstitutional, and was a stepping stone towards the path of cultural integration and tolerance among Americans. The Southern Manifesto was created to oppose the Supreme Court by stating that the Brown decision was “an apparent misuse of judicial authority” (Manifesto 3), although this was an excuse to mask the inherent racism presented in the Southern Manifesto. The Southern Manifesto justified how strongly polarizing perspectives towards segregation and racism were in America, and these viewpoints had a lasting impact, even today. The Southern Manifesto was especially supported in the South, with 101 out of 104 politicians supporting the document. The Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision obviously was not an immediate fix for the racism issues in America at that time, and the Southern Manifesto’s motivations are the paragon of this fact. Ultimately, the racism that exists in America will never disappear completely.

Politicians in the South wrote the Southern Manifesto in response to the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision with the purpose of preventing the integration of races in schools. However, the creators of the Southern Manifesto were aware that if they clearly expressed racism in their document, then they wouldn’t garner support. The North was unsupportive of the Southern Manifesto because of its inherent racism, while the South worked hard to mask their prejudices as well as possible. But how did the creators strive to do this? Through neutralism and legally-focused vernacular, the politicians strove to target the dangers that the Brown Supreme Court decision could bring. The Southern Manifesto was implemented in the early stages of the Civil Rights Movement, a time when African Americans in the South were being murdered, harassed, and lynched. The goal of the Southern Manifesto was to appear unprejudiced and focused on legal matters, but the racist actions the writers partook in made the Manifesto’s main motivation apparent. The Manifesto failed to achieve its aim of segregation, and it worsened tensions between the South and the North over racial integration and halted efforts towards unity. Furthermore, as I analyze the Southern Manifesto’s text and the legal rhetoric presented, I will also divulge how the writers employ their acumen to attain their goal of neutralism in a truly racist document.

To understand the Southern Manifesto’s racial underpinnings, one must consider who the writer of the document is. Among the three out of the one hundred and four Southern senators who refused to support the Southern Manifesto was Albert Gore Sr., who recalls this time during an interview in 1976. Two of the main writers of the Manifesto were Richard Russell and Strom Thurmond, and Thurmond had asked Gore countless times to sign in support of the document. Gore, however, refused, stating that the Manifesto was “…politically, the most insulting, insane, and spurious document in existence” (Gore 2:33). Gore’s refusal to support this document an epoch-making event, as it led to the jeopardization of his chances of reelection, as the majority of his constituents supported segregation, in addition to animosity from his colleagues in the South. Nevertheless, Gore retained his integrity and knew he would not support a document written by Strom Thurmond. From his countless racist statements and actions, including campaigning on an ticket against civil rights, the “Ticket for States’ Rights”, Strom Thurmond was notorious for being prejudiced. His political journey was influenced by his racism, and his goal of neutralism in the Southern Manifesto juxtaposed his actions. The track records of the Southern Manifesto’s writers makes the document’s racial influence conspicuous.

A considerable defect brought by the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision was that integration would be executed “with all deliberate speed” (Smithsonian 1), which didn’t specify a timeframe for when this would occur. Because of this statement, Southern politicians realized they “…were allowed to end segregation on their own timetable” (Ogletree 23), so they took advantage of the circumstances and forestalled the integration of schools. While forestalling integration, they created the Southern Manifesto, and proposed ways to disguise their racist incentives for segregation through constitutional matters. When the Southern politicians presented the Southern Manifesto to the Senate, they argued that the Supreme Court decision infringed upon the states’ rights to govern educational matters (Archives 1). They further argued that “The Constitution included a system of checks and balances because the Founding Fathers learned from that infinite power cannot be entrusted with any man or men” (Manifesto 2). Richard Russell, chief author of the Southern Manifesto, utilized ethos and logos in his reasonings because he knew that ratification of a document was only possible if the arguments were legally-related. The Manifesto’s writers were aware that education wasn’t discussed in the Constitution, and they took advantage of this. Additionally, the Southern politicians argued that the decision for “separate but equal” institutions was upheld in past court cases, yet outlawed in the Brown decision, further citing legal evidence as a way for racial segregation to remain in schools. Overall, the Southern Manifesto is a rhetorically cogent document due to its capacity to address states’ rights and the Constitution in order to attain its impalpable racist objective.

Elaborating on the document’s legal rhetoric, the Southerners’ motivation to perpetuate white supremacy is noteworthy. John Kyle Day, an author, wrote a book titled The Southern Manifesto: Massive Resistance and the Fight to Preserve Segregation, which examines the complex processes the authors underwent to write the Manifesto. The Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision was a monumental event in the United States’ history that exhibited people’s beliefs on the elimination of racism. During this time, Southern politicians were stereotyped to be “callow, infuriated bumpkins” (Day 423). However, the Southern Manifesto was in defense of Southern politicians, revealing their “capability to be legally enlightened, cognizant, and cunning” (Day 428). Ultimately, the Southern politicians’ arguments that the Brown decision contravened states’ rights were valid, since the Constitution never mentioned education. Moreover, despite the Manifesto being carefully crafted, the Supreme Court had the power to deliver another interpretation of the Constitution that the Manifesto couldn’t counter, due to the omnipresent support of judicial ascendancy (Day 430). While oppugning the Supreme Court’s decision was intimidating for the Southern Manifesto’s authors, they were determined to additionally argue that the change in Southerners’ lifestyles would be cumbersome.

The meaning of “separate but equal” established by the Brown decision confirmed the culture, traditions, and lifestyles of several Southerners, and became an important part of their lives. The Southern Manifesto insisted that the Brown decision created “…confusion and chaos primarily in the Southern states. It has replaced the cordial relations that the good Negros and whites have built over ninety years with suspicion and hatred” (Manifesto 12). Utilizing pathos was an effective way to conceal the racism embedded in the Southern Manifesto, as these lines in the document make it appear as if whites and African Americans had amicable relations with each other. To ruin these relationships, according to the Manifesto’s writers, would cause tension among the two races in the South, serving to appeal to the rhetorical device, ethos. Nonetheless, the Southerners’ were generally notorious for their racist actions, and this was difficult to disregard by the Manifesto’s supporters. All in all, their acts proved contradicting to their words in the Southern Manifesto, establishing the foundation of racism that the Southern Manifesto was created upon.

Undoubtedly, the true meaning of “race” must be apprehended to understand the extent and implications of the creation of the Southern Manifesto. In the Humanities Core program at UC Irvine, Professor Block lectured students on the ideologies behind racism, racecraft, and race. She argued that “Race is not biologic, objective, trans-historic, just about Africans, black people, or non-white people…race is an ideology. It came to exist at a discernible historical moment for rationally understandable historical reasons and is subject to change” (Block 1). This argument by Block is a paragon for the countless actions and decisions on the basis of race made in the history of the United States. Segregation itself was based on race, justifying Block’s argument that race is an issue for particular reasons at certain times. The Southerners, however, could not argue with the Supreme Court on the basis of race, as they desperately needed the support of Northerners to attain their goal of segregation sustenance through the Southern Manifesto. Racial biases establish race, and race was utilized by the United States throughout history to make their systems work (Block). Race was especially utilized by the government to differentiate African Americans from whites starting from the slave trade in the early 17th century, to the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, and was attempted to continue through the Southern Manifesto. Racecraft is the division of race in accordance with the law, which can be discerned in the 1896 Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the “separate but equal” decision that Brown v. Board of Education outlawed in 1954. The Brown v. Board of Education decision was a monumental moment in the history of the US, because it was the first stride made by the government towards racial equality.

Politically, the Southern Manifesto Manifesto was white supremacists’ last resort to maintain racial segregation. The South and the North have quarreled over the matter of race throughout history, the American Civil War being a significant example. For 246 years, from 1619 to 1865, slavery ruled the lives of African Americans in the United States. During 1860, the peak time for slavery rates, 90% of the 13% of African Americans in the United States were slaves, the population being the highest in the South, where 1 in 3 people were black (Gates Jr. 11). Slavery was abolished during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency in 1865, a presidency that “cautioned Caucasian southerners that racial associations in the nation would reorient drastically as per the federal government” (Badger 356). The reactions to Lincoln’s election among Southerners is comparable to Southerners’ reactions to the Brown decision, as they worried about the changes to their racially-focused lifestyles during both events. As the United States worked towards the abolishment of slavery in 1861, the Confederacy, 11 states in the South, battled in the American Civil War with the Union, which comprised of 20 free states in the North, the national government, and four slave and border states. The Confederacy argued for states’ rights, which inspired the Southern Manifesto’s authors to contend the Supreme Court under the same logic. After the Brown decision, the South considered their previous failures, and learned to make their racial influence unapparent when they created the Southern Manifesto.

The Southern Manifesto, being the popular and contentious document it is, has undoubtedly influenced other legal moments in history. Although the Manifesto is irrelevant to politicians today, as racial segregation is currently illegal, it is still routinely mentioned when various legal matters are discussed (Day 427). An example of the Manifesto being referenced is in the 1958 Supreme Court case, Cooper v. Aaron. In this case, the state of Arkansas’ school board and William Cooper challenged the judicial supremacy of the Supreme Court, citing questions written in the Southern Manifesto. The state of Arkansas and its citizens asserted that desegregation should be terminated, but the Supreme Court ruled that all states must abide to the their orders of racial integration. William Cooper and the state of Arkansas’ failure to uphold segregation is a result of their blatant racism. Their unsuccessful attempt is comparable to the Southern Manifesto’s demise, which occurred as a result of the document’s non-prejudiced convictions juxtaposing the authors’ notoriously racist actions. Considering the various reactions to Brown v. Board of Education, it is evident that legal decisions do not instantly fix particular issues in America.

Hypothetically, if the desegregation law fortified by the Brown decision resulted in the end of all race issues in the United States, prejudices and tensions wouldn’t sustain for decades following. When all nine Supreme Court justices unanimously voted for the “separate but equal” doctrine to be overturned, efforts towards change didn’t immediately occur, and widespread bitterness and resistance were rampant. The Southern Manifesto is the most significant example of immediate opposition to the Brown case, but for decades after, there are countless examples of the tensions resulting from desegregation.

Today, the epitome of furthered tensions can be seen with issues such as the Ku Klux Klan and police cruelty towards African Americans. Regarding police cruelty, several cases of unnecessary hostility towards African Americans have been recorded, including the shooting of innocent 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014, the savage beating Rodney King endured in 1991 for driving under the influence, and countless other incidents. The Ku Klux Klan is another prominent example of continued tensions, as the they held a rally alongside white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. These specific examples of police brutality and actions made by the Ku Klux Klan demonstrate the magnitude of racism towards African Americans today. Racism is still ubiquitous, and several activist movements today exist to campaign for equality and non-violence towards African Americans. Moreover, racist actions still occur and statements are still made in politics, though they are generally concealed. Society as a whole will never completely rid itself of their racial prejudices; when necessary, they will obscure their beliefs to avoid controversy and attain their goals, as seen in the Southern Manifesto.

By and large, the racial foundation of the Southern Manifesto is incontestable. Though the Manifesto strove to contend the Constitutional matters of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, the claims made in the document were disingenuous for several reasons. The Manifesto’s authors were infamously racist and the supporters of the document engaged in hate crimes fueled by their prejudices, which undermined the authenticity of their arguments and disclosed the true motivations behind writing the Southern Manifesto. The opposition by Southerners to sustain their lifestyles during times of segregation was proof that the Brown outcome did not instantly fix racial issues in the United States. Finally, the mere improvement of relations between whites and African Americans today demonstrate the racial ideals that have persevered.

Cite this paper

Southern Manifesto and Brown v. Board of Education. (2021, Jan 11). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/southern-manifesto-and-brown-v-board-of-education/

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