The War on Poverty in Mississippi
From Massive Resistance to New Conservatism
How the war on poverty galvanized and transformed white defiance
President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty instigated a ferocious backlash in Mississippi. Federally funded programs—the embodiment of 1960s liberalism—directly clashed with Mississippi’s closed society. From 1965 to 1973, opposing forces transformed the state.
In this state-level history of the war on poverty, Emma J. Folwell traces the attempts of white and black Mississippians to address the state’s dire economic circumstances through antipoverty programs. At times, the war on poverty became a powerful tool for black empowerment. But more often, antipoverty programs served as a potent catalyst of white resistance to black advancement.
After the momentous events of 1964, both black activism and white opposition to black empowerment evolved due to these federal efforts. White Mississippians deployed massive resistance in part to stifle any black economic empowerment, twisting antipoverty programs into tools to marginalize black political power. Folwell uncovers how the grassroots war against the war on poverty laid the foundation for the fight against 1960s liberalism, as Mississippi became a national model for stonewalling social change.
As Folwell indicates, many white Mississippians hardwired elements of massive resistance into the political, economic, and social structure. Meanwhile, they abandoned the Democratic Party and honed the state’s Republican Party, spurred by a new conservatism.
In The War on Poverty in Mississippi, Emma J. Folwell uses exhaustive archival research to build a compelling case that the war on poverty in Mississippi served as a kind of political-bureaucratic laboratory for white conservatives to develop tactics to oppose racial liberalism and undermine the Great Society. She shows how Mississippi, once again, served as a national model for resistance to racial progress.- Kent B. Germany, professor of history and director of graduate studies and public history, University of South Carolina