Title

Segregationist Spin: The Use of the Public Relations by the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission and the White Citizens' Council, 1954--1973

Date of Award

2006

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

David R. Davies

Advisor Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Abstract

During the decade that followed the Brown decision, white Mississippians engaged in many activities to avoid and even nullify the Supreme Court's edict to integrate the state's public school systems. "All deliberate speed," as the Court had ordered, came to have new meaning to those determined to maintain their segregated way of life. This dissertation examines the role of public relations in the organizations' efforts to thwart integration in the state while also attempting to project a more positive image of the state. In coordinating their efforts into an effective strategy, public relations became a key component of the battle to preserve the state's lily- white school systems. Established just weeks after the Brown decision, the Citizens' Council created an arsenal of mass communication tactics that helped solidify white public opinion in the state and mobilize individuals into action as a powerful force in fighting the edict. Bolstered in 1956 by the creation the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, white Mississippians' cries of "Never!" seemed to more accurately to reflect reality rather than simply the reactive rhetoric of defiance. While most white Mississippians were unified behind the ideals and motivations of the Citizens' Council and Sovereignty Commission during the late 1950s and the early 1960s, a more moderate voice emerged and during the mid 1960s began to drown out the once deafening cries of "Never!" which arose from the state. The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 rendered the organizations' original purposes of thwarting integration efforts useless. As both the Citizens' Councils and the State Sovereignty Commission attempted to adjust and survive the effects of the legislation, public relations programming remained a vital and integral part of their activities.