J. Douglas Smith. Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. xiv + 411 pp. $65.00 (library), ISBN 978-0-8078-2756-7; $25.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8078-5424-2.
Reviewed by W. Scott Poole (Department of History, College of Charleston)
Published on H-South (May, 2004)
Virginia's "Highest Stage of White Supremacy"
Generally, the guys in the beat-up Ford truck are the villains of the piece. Consider the number of films dealing with the civil rights era (directly or indirectly) that portray the bad guys as hard-faced, greasy, T-shirt wearing rural proles tearing down dirt roads, sans muffler, in decaying pick-ups, waving baseball bats menacingly. Satisfied with this familiar and malevolent representation of "the idiocy of rural life," few viewers ever bother to wonder how such obviously economically marginal people became the power brokers of the Jim Crow South. 
Historians have already done much to complicate this simplistic view. John W. Cell, in his 1982 comparative study of the rise of Jim Crow in the American South and the emergence of apartheid in South Africa, argued that modern racial caste systems developed out of the matrix of urbanization and modernization. Cell used the phrase "the highest stage of white supremacy" to describe his argument, suggesting that in modern forms of segregation, elites had shaped a diabolical system flexible enough to meet the challenges it faced on a variety of fronts. Cell tweaked the assumptions of a simplistic liberalism that viewed segregation as a carry-over from a rural, frontier past. Instead, he launched a far more radical critique of modern urban societies, showing how both Jim Crow and apartheid had emerged from the plans of a self-conscious urban elite, from, as Cell wrote, "forces that we usually regard as progressive." 
J. Douglas Smith's Managing White Supremacy follows a similar, if less far-reaching, line of argument. Smith shows the genteel face of Virginia racism, how white elites sought to structure social and political life in the Old Dominion around paternalism and power. Smith shows, with a wealth of detail and analysis, that Virginia's white elite, though often self-described moderates, performed the maintenance and upkeep on a system of segregation that structured racial oppression in the state through much of the twentieth century. Smith's close analysis of early-twentieth-century Virginia plows ground first broken by Cell, showing the many faces of white supremacy and suggesting the intricacies of class and social status that hide within the mystifications of race. Smith shows how the white elite's efforts to "manage" Virginia's white supremacist society broke on the rocks of their own contradictions as African Americans pressed for real change in the mid-twentieth century.
Much of the value of Smith's study comes from his examination of the fault lines of white supremacy, how the white elite found itself bound by their own white supremacist assumptions. In chapter 3, for example, Smith has included an intriguing discussion of the Anglo-Saxon Clubs that suggests the multivalence of white supremacy. During the 1920s, some of Virginia's leading cultural and governmental figures created these clubs, drawing to their ranks a number of former Virginia Klansmen who had become disenchanted with the revived Klan's entrepreneurial ethos and anti-Catholic tendencies. The Anglo-Saxon Clubs shaped much of Virginia's political discourse about race in the 1920s, using their influence to craft draconian legislation that sought to prevent "miscegenation" by defining whiteness by the strictest of standards. Walter Plecker, a leading figure in the Anglo-Saxon Clubs and head of the state's Bureau of Vital Statistics, even initiated a crusade to have the Chickohominy Indians defined as black and sought to limit the issuance of marriage licenses accordingly.
Smith cogently argues that the Anglo-Saxon Clubs represent a "fissure" in the ranks of elite Virginians, many of whom disagreed with some of the clubs' more extremist ideas and actions while simultaneously finding it impossible to challenge their white supremacist premises (pp. 76, 77). In fact, Smith shows that the clubs' leadership conjoined their fascination with eugenics to the traditional white Virginian obsession with genealogy and "pure" ancestral bloodlines to create a powerful mythic appeal. In 1926, the clubs used their influence to ensure the passage of the Virginia Public Assemblages Act decreeing the public separation of the races, ensuring that local Jim Crow laws, de jure and de facto, had the full endorsement of state law. Smith writes that many white elites, some of whom abhorred what they saw as the extremism of the clubs, shared so many of the cultural assumptions of Plecker and Powell that they had little basis to challenge such measures.
African Americans in the Old Dominion understood the hypocrisy of white elites and mapped their political trajectory accordingly. Smith notes that, in the early stages of Virginia's Jim Crow system, many black leaders found themselves in an unwilling and unhappy collaboration with white moderates. Indeed, many white elites saw the black middle class as crucial allies in the effort to maintain a stable and harmonious society. By the late 1930s and early 1940s, however, black Virginians pushed hard for the end of Jim Crow, widening chasms of disagreement among white elites, the most moderate of whom, Smith writes, "could not envision a future without segregation" (p. 250). Indeed, Smith shows that the moral bankruptcy of the moderate position became clear in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education as elites such as Virginius Dabney countenanced, or at best remained silent, while the Virginia legislature initiated massive resistance.
Smith has put together an engaging and detailed study, though neither the direction of his argument nor his broader conclusions are especially new. Cell's argument about the nature of modern white supremacy hovers in the background and students of southern history will certainly recognize in Smith's Virginia elites the "Conservatives" described by Joel Williamson in The Crucible of Race who sought to use paternalism to shape an organic society. Nevertheless, Smith has done a valuable service with his close study of the nature of white moderation in a society much different from their Deep South cousins in South Carolina, and different yet again from how Jim Crow operated in Alabama or Mississippi.
Finally, Managing White Supremacy opens the way for further study of how state power elaborated and enforced southern white supremacy. Smith's examination of Plecker and the Bureau of Vital Statistics opens up a range of questions, questions familiar to scholars of both traditional European and post-colonial historiography, regarding the role of state power in the enforcement of racial mores. Beginning in the 1890s, southern state governments fashioned bureaucratic structures that monitored interracial sexuality, enforced segregation, and sought to prevent the growth of black political activism. A panoply of sovereignty commissions and state law enforcement divisions used surveillance and special police powers to extend and protect Jim Crow. These bureaucracies, much more than the boys in the pick-up trucks, helped ensure the survival of Jim Crow throughout much of the twentieth-century South.
. Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto (New York: Oxford Press, 1998), p. 7.
. John W. Cell, The Highest Stage of White Supremacy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), p. 18.
. Joel Williamson, Rage for Order (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 176-178.
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W. Scott Poole. Review of Smith, J. Douglas, Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia.
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