In the wake of Barack Obama’s election in 2008, there has been an increase in resistance to civil rights and an increase in anti-civil rights rhetoric in America.
Last week in Alabama, a billboard was posted along Interstate 59 near Springville that read: “Diversity means chasing down the last white person” followed by “#whitegenocide.” In June 2013, a billboard appeared in Birmingham, near the town of Leeds, Alabama, that read: “Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.” Billboards were posted across Alabama in 2014, including in Montgomery and near Tuscaloosa, that read “SECEDE.”
The latest in a longstanding anti-civil rights campaign, these billboards exploit racial justice narratives and distort history. Just a generation after the Civil War, descendants of Confederate veterans initiated an intentional effort to promote a fictional history that recast the Confederate cause as a struggle for states’ rights rather than a fight to retain slavery. Similarly, in the 1950s and 1960s, Dixiecrats and others organized resistance to the civil rights movement; these anti-civil rights activists revived the Confederate flag at political conventions and protests and denounced federal civil rights legislation as a tyrannical violation of states’ rights.
Today, after President Obama’s election and after the United States Supreme Court declared vestiges of Southern inequality eradicated in 2013’s Shelby County v. Holderdecision, many anti-civil rights activists have seized the narrative that racial justice is no longer a legitimate social goal, and that efforts aimed at eliminating racial discrimination are actually anti-white measures that promote inequality.
The billboard in Springville, Alabama, is one example of how organizations with ties to white supremacists and neo-segregationists, like the White Genocide Project, are exploiting this anti-civil rights narrative.
Springville is home to St. Clair Correctional Facility, where dangerous conditions and an extraordinarily high rate of violence including six homicides in thirty-six months led EJI to file a class action lawsuit in federal court last fall on behalf of men incarcerated there.
Similarly, an Alabama school superintendent is being criticized by African American parents for prohibiting students from seeing Selma, a major motion picture depicting the police attack on peaceful voting rights activists in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, and the march from Selma to Montgomery that followed. The voting rights campaign in Selma led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
DeKalb County superintendent Hugh Taylor denied a request for the Collinsville High School history club to attend a showing of Selma in Gadsden, Alabama, telling reporters that he would not use taxpayer money to transport high school students to the PG-13 rated movie because a website said the F-word and racial slurs are depicted in the film. “[S]ending them off to something that has immoral, unethical language, that may provoke other things, I don’t feel like it’s appropriate,” he said. Taylor, a white Republican elected official, told reporters he had not seen the film.