White Rage is an intriguing, informative, and necessary book for understanding the concerted effort put forth to undermine the civil rights of black Americans.


Professor Carole Anderson is the Charles Howard and Candler Professor and Chair of African American Studies at Emory University. She describes White Rage as “not about visible violence, but rather it works its way through the courts, the legislatures, and a range of governmental bureaucracies.” It is the lack of educational opportunities, housing inequities, low paying jobs, and rampant unemployment, and inadequate healthcare. Education, employment, and housing are key to solving the other challenges that beset African Americans and all people living at or below the poverty level. She also states black advancement triggers white rage. She shows that every time people of color progress an extensive backlash ensues. This backlash though is not confined to the South as we see in “Derailing the Great Migration.”

Derailing the Great Migration

During the Great Migration when people left the South in droves for greater opportunities in the North, they found housing hard to get. If one had a college degree or a respectable profession, it was even more difficult to obtain decent housing. During WW I when people fought to create a world for a safer democracy. It wasn’t safe for African Americans, especially in the South.

According to Anderson, during the Great Migration southern leaders decided to banish the Chicago Defender even though it had not broken any Constitutional laws. It had not committed libel in reporting the reality of lynchings, nor wage theft, nor the rape of black women. For its crime of reporting the truth, the Defender needed to be silenced. Copies of the newspaper were destroyed and in Pine Bluff, Arkansas banned outright and anywhere in the county. However, there were those who chose to find other ways of distribution. The attempts to ban the paper increased its credibility and importance. Some methods employed by the resistance included using the postal system and smuggling the paper in bulk goods. Those resistance fighters were preachers, black railroad porters, and teachers.

It wasn’t just reporting the truth but its advertisements telling black people there were better-paying jobs elsewhere that aroused the Southerner's ire. How dare someone try to steal their slave labor. Anderson states, “the very idea of freedom of movement and the concept that labor could go wherever it could to get the best package, had to be stopped.” Examples of the egregious behavior include tearing up of tickets of those waiting to board trains; arresting passengers waiting to board and charging them with vagrancy; and writing to railway officials to stop taking negroes. This last tactic backfired since it was a violation of the interstate commerce clause to ban paying customers

Another tactic was imprisonment and fines for anyone selling the paper or advocating leaving. In one instance in Franklin, Mississippi a preacher was fined four hundred dollars for selling the Crisis magazine from the NAACP. Although the black exodus expanded the areas for employment housing for them had not. In Detroit, the area called the Black Bottom became engorged with 10 times the people it had formerly held. Unprovoked violence erupted and negroes got no help from the police but were considered the provocateurs and yet people saw the North as a refuge.

Burning Brown to the Ground

            In discussing “separate but equal” laws, Professor Anderson states this was the Achilles heel the NAACP sought to attack. The doctrine condemned was the 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy v Ferguson which set up the Jim Crow laws and for those who don’t know the decision was not a unanimous (7-1). Justice John Marshall Harlan, a former slaveholder, and sole dissenter wrote, “The arbitrary separation of citizens on the basis of race while they are on a public highway is a badge of servitude wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the Constitution.” Brian Duigan,2020, in discussing Harlan’s dissent said, “It cannot be justified upon any legal grounds.” Harlan also noted the decision would be as pernicious as Chief Justice Roger Taney’s Dred Scott decision when who wrote “African Americans were not entitled to the rights of U. S. citizenship” (Duignan).

            Initially, the NAACP worked to force states to “equalize educational requirements” per Plessy. Obviously, it didn’t work. An example of this fallacy was the University of Texas at Austin’s attempt to re-create its law school for blacks “in a run-down off-site basement.” It was a dismal failure. This NAACP and southerners were engaged in a fencing match. The NAACP would push out challenges and states parried by creating apartheid-like conditions. However, Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina, Kansas, Washington, D.C. court cases launched by the NAACP proved the incapability of southern governments to meet the challenge of “separate but equal.”

All these cases were bundled into the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. And southerners dangled a carrot to get this august organization to drop its suit. New high schools suddenly cropped up. Whites who had thought the equalization idea would derail the Brown v Topeka Armageddon were surprised their formerly patient Negroes had grown up into recalcitrant children. The day of “supposed” reckoning came on May 17, 1954 with a unanimous decision engineered by newly appointed justice Earl Warren that separate was not equal.

            Roy Wilkins who had initially been euphoric had not realized how quickly would grow. According to Anderson the violence that erupted after the decision would not have happened or been at least tamped down if governors, legislators, U. S. Senators, and others including the President of the United States had not had contempt for the Supreme Court’s decisions as law of the land. Another glitch in the implementation of the ruling was the “with all deliberate speed” addendum added to the ruling in 1955. Merriam Webster defines deliberate as “slow, unhurried, and steady as though allowing time for a decision on each individual action involved.”

Technically, the court without federal government intervention handed down a toothless decision. The “stall and defy, then stall and undermine tactics went on for at least four decades.” And who gets the blame, black parents. It’s a blame the victim scenario that has played out over centuries. White southerners thought of themselves as “defenders of the Constitution” by saying if black parents had not chosen integration over education there would not be this mess. Educationally and economically black people suffered and continue to suffer because the government designed to protect and safeguard the rights of all continued and still believe black folks are less than human. This pronouncement reverberates even now. How to Unelect a Black President

Although not the beginning of what led up to the Trump presidency, Lindsay Graham after Obama’s election said, “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” This troubled the party as more people had voted in that election than in the past 40 years. As the Republicans came to or more precisely admitted to itself it could not be responsive to what millions wanted, they turned to their tried and true weapon: disenfranchisement. Someone stated that the GOP’s “leverage go[es] up as the voting populace goes down.”

They thought or more importantly put out ACORN, the (Association of Community Organization for Reform Now) had stolen the election from McCain through voter fraud although (ACORN) had been investigated by George W. Bush’s administration and found guiltless. One way the GOP worked to destroy democracy was trying to eliminate Democratic candidates by using half-baked or trumped-up charges of voter fraud. The derailment of Brown v Topeka cropped up in many ways.

William O, Rehinquist, future Supreme Court justice perfected “new methods of voter intimidation.” One idea used was the “do not forward” mail to residents in Democratic strongholds. Vigorous ID laws were beginning to be passed. These restrictions were expertly controlled. Requiring a birth certificate, proof of residence, and in Wisconsin for example a government-issued ID while moving or reducing DMV offices. Remarkably ID’s issued for government assistance were excluded

Another tactic took place in Governor Rick Scott’s Florida. He slashed early voting from two weeks to eight days and eliminated Sunday voting immediately before Election Day. Finally, Andersons says, “Barack Obama’s election was a catalyst for a level of voter suppression activities that had not been seen so clearly or disturbingly in decades.” Anderson refers to Jelani Cobb’s “paradox of progress.” This means as black people ascend it creates a backlash. She goes on to say, “black achievement, black aspirations, and black success are construed as threats.”

After the Election: Imagining

            It is intriguing that even Lindsay Graham saw that Trump was considered a Russian puppet. He said, “Putin’s overarching goal [is] to ‘destroy democracy around the world,” and yet Graham has become a vociferous supporter of Trump. Another voter suppression technique came once again from Florida governor Rick Scott. He imposed a ‘fourteen-year waiting period after sentencing requirements are completed.” This time constraint prevented formerly incarcerated prisoners from even petitioning to have their rights restored.

While impoverished and underemployed people need the Affordable Care Act and yet Trump’s base continues to call these Americans lazy and feeding off tax dollars. They complain they are “getting health care for free” and other government support is a drain on the economy.  In conclusion, Anderson said, despite the groans of ideological heresy, the GOP embraced his terrible agenda because their pet projects needed to destroy a state apparatus that focused on the advancement and protection of rights, equality, and justice. To heighten this dismantling would create a neo-apartheid world that needs voter suppression, legalizing racial profiling and incarceration, weakening of labor laws, stopping the raising of a minimum wage, and elimination of nutritional assistance. This is the bad news.

            The good is Trump has disappointed many who voted for him. His last victory came with 2.8 million fewer votes than Clinton and with the pandemic (my insertion) may change the future. Anderson wants us to IMAGINE: if the Civil Rights Movement had really brought Martin Luther King’s dream had become a reality; if taking the election of Obama as a positive and harnessed the awe-inspiring power of the election as progress; and a last thought, if Brown v the Board of Education had really opened educational doors for all. Her final line is “This time we choose a different future.”

My question to you will we work to do it.


Anderson, Carole 2017. White Rage Bloomsbury, NY

Duignan, Brian 2020. Plessy v. Ferguson

Website Name: Encyclopaedia Britannica Publisher: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

Date Published: 11 May 2020