Men and Women of Good Will: A History of the Commission on Interacial Cooperation and the Southern Regional Council, 1919-1954

McDonough, Julia Anne , Department of History, University of Virginia
Gaston, Paul M., Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia

The Southern Regional Council was established in 1944 as the successor to the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, founded in 1919. The Council rapidly gained a national reputation for authoritative reporting on the region. It became the principal institution where southern liberals grappled with the South's legacy of racial and economic inequality. Through their efforts to foster democracy, racial justice, and economic opportunity, the Council's members redefined southern liberalism and came to play a pivotal role in the mounting struggle for black rights. This dissertation deepens our understanding of the nature, accomplishments, and limitations of southern liberalism--caught within the restrictions of self-help and state's rights--and by extension of American liberalism. It also examines how a distinctively southern liberalism gradually accepted the more interventionist agenda of northern liberals.

Although the Council advanced a critique of southern race relations, it also reproduced key features of the social system it targeted for reform. Homogeneous in its class composition and characterized by hierarchical relations between men and women, the Council mirrored the values of mainstream southern society. The study examines the complex interplay of solidarity and conflict between the sexes and among black and white members of the same sex. It also explores the limitations of an organization whose membership was predominantly middle class and whose principal audience was the southern white power structure.

It traces the varied strategies of Howard Odum and Jessie Daniel Ames in the earlier Commission for Interracial Cooperation during the early 1930s. The years of the New Deal and the Second World War marked a transitional phase from the Commission to the Council and the victory of Odum's regionalist strategy with the formation of the Council in 1944. The thesis examines in detail the administrations of Guy Johnson and George Mitchell, analyzing the shift from the original regionalist agenda to one concerned primarily with racial issues under pressure from the Council's more liberal members. It concludes with a discussion of the SRC's role in the increasingly racially polarized South during the early 1950s before the Brown decision, arguing that the transformation of southern liberalism facilitated the SRC's developing role as the interlocutor between northern foundations and local black activists.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
southern liberals, racial inequality, economic inequality, black rights
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