Equal Justice Initiative Releases New Report on Massive Opposition to Civil Rights in America


Today, EJI released Segregation in America, a new report and companion website that documents how millions of white Americans joined a mass movement of committed, unwavering, and often violent opposition to the Civil Rights Movement. EJI believes that understanding this mass opposition to racial equality, integration, and civil rights is central to confronting the continuing challenges of racial inequality today.

The story of the American Civil Rights Movement is familiar: courageous activists waged an epic struggle, faced great risks, and suffered tragic losses to achieve victories that forever changed the nation. Segregation in America tells the lesser-known story of national opposition to civil rights and racial equality. White Americans concentrated in the South and influential throughout the country conducted a widespread, organized, and determined campaign to defend segregation and white supremacy. Racist politicians enjoyed support from the majority of white voters; the Ku Klux Klan claimed many of the South’s most prominent and powerful citizens as members; and perpetrators of vicious attacks on Black people were regularly acquitted by all-white juries. School closures, economic reprisals, arrests and harassment, mob violence, bombings, and murder were bold, public acts and influenced thinking about the need for civil rights.

Opposition to civil rights was led by elected officials, journalists, and community leaders who espoused virulently racist ideologies, shut down public schools and parks to prevent integration, and encouraged violence against civil rights activists. Segregation in America profiles dozens of these segregationist leaders, who were not shamed or banished after the passage of civil rights and voting rights laws in the 1960s. Instead, they repeatedly won re-elections to the highest political offices and were accommodated and embraced by political, social, and cultural institutions. Segregation in America makes the case that our failure to repudiate segregationists and their ideologies allowed racial bias to remain unchallenged in many modern institutions.

The Confederate iconography that saturates our American landscape has gained national attention in recent years, but many Americans do not realize that scores of Confederate monuments were installed in the 1950s and 60s as part of the mass opposition to civil rights and racial equality. Many segregationists used Confederate symbols to brand themselves as brave protectors of their culture and champions of the struggle for states’ rights – an identity that persists today. EJI has identified more than 1500 Confederate monuments across the United States, including dozens outside the South, and created an interactive map with details and images on the Segregation in America website: segregationinamerica.eji.org.

Segregation in America documents a critical piece of American history that has been too often overlooked. Our failure to confront our history of racial inequality has allowed racial discrimination and inequality to endure. The United States is still compromised by widespread racial bias and bigotry. False narratives of racial difference marginalize and exclude many communities of color and Black and brown people are burdened with a presumption of guilt and dangerousness that is evident in myriad ways.

“America’s history of racial inequality continues to haunt us. Many of the issues we face today are shadowed by an underlying narrative of racial difference and bias that compromise our progress.  Our nation, now more than ever, is in desperate need of truth and recovery,” said EJI Director Bryan Stevenson. “That process is sequential: we must first tell the truth about our past before we can overcome it.”

Segregation in America is the third report in a series on America’s history of racial injustice. In 2013, EJI issued Slavery in America, which focused on the domestic slave trade and its legacy. That research and work led to the creation of the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, which opened in April in Montgomery, Alabama. In 2015, EJI published Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, which inspired another new cultural space in Montgomery, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

Understanding the opposition to civil rights can help us address its legacy today.