The Southern Strategy

A Short Reading and Two Video Clips

An Excerpt From The New Jim Crow By Michelle Alexander

Racialized social control in the United States… has been achieved largely by appealing to the racism and vulnerability of lower-class whites, a group of people who are understandably eager to ensure that they never find themselves trapped at the bottom of the American totem pole. This pattern, dating back to slavery, has birthed yet another racial caste system in the United States: mass incarceration.


While dramatic progress was apparent in political and social realms, civil rights activists became increasingly concerned that, without major economic reforms, the vast majority of blacks would remain locked in poverty... The shift in focus served to align the goals of the Civil Rights Movement with key political goals of poor and working-class whites, who were also demanding economic reforms. As the Civil Rights Movement began to evolve into a “Poor People’s Movement,” it promised to address not only black poverty, but white poverty as well--thus raising the specter of a poor and working-class movement that cut across racial lines. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders made it clear that they viewed the eradication of economic inequality as the next front in the “human rights movement” and made great efforts to build multiracial coalitions that sought economic justice for all. Genuine equality for black people, King reasoned, demanded a radical restructuring of society, one that would address the needs of the black and white poor throughout the country. Shortly before his assassination, he envisioned bringing to Washington, D.C., thousands of the nation’s disadvantaged in an interracial alliance that embraced the rural and ghetto blacks, Appalachian whites, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Native Americans to demand jobs and income—the right to live.


With the success of the Civil Rights Movement and the launching of the Poor People’s Movement, it was apparent to all that a major disruption in the nation’s racial equilibrium had occurred... Conservative whites began once again to search for a new racial order that would conform to the needs and constraints of the time. This process took place with the understanding that whatever the new order would be... it could not involve explicit or clearly intentional race discrimination... A new race-neutral language was developed for appealing to old racist sentiments... Proponents of racial hierarchy found they could install a new racial caste system without violating the law or the new limits of acceptable political discourse, by demanding “law and order” rather than “segregation forever.” … it proved highly effective in appealing to poor and working-class whites.

Michelle Alexander | Author of The New Jim Crow

Rev. Dr. William Barber  |  Co-Chair of The Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

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