Paintin’ ‘Em Red: Mississippi’s Propaganda Campaign Against Civil Rights Workers, 1954-1964
Robert L. Harris, Jr.
Thesis DT 3.5 2005 W52
xi, 161 leaves; 28 cm.
When Ethyl and Julius Rosenberg were executed by electric chair at Sing Sing prison on June 19, 1953, their death set a precedent for the nation's intolerance toward Communism and espionage. J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1924-1972, frantically warned the nation of this danger:
Communists have been trained in deceit and secretly work toward the day when they hope to replace our American way of life with a Communist dictatorship. They utilize cleverly camouflaged movements, such as peace groups and civil rights groups to achieve their sinister purposes. It is important to learn to know the enemies of the American way of life.
The Espionage Act, the Sedition Act, The Smith Act, and The House Committee on Un-American Activities were created to neutralize American communist sympathizers. Much as Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy worked to convince Americans that the Red Menace was hiding, spying, and vying to steal the American Dream, HUAC Chair and Mississippi Representative John Rankin known for his hatred of African Americans, liberals, Jews, and immigrants insisted, Racial disturbances you have seen in the South have been inspired by the tentacles of this great octopus, communism, which is out to destroy everything. Southerners soon adopted the Red Scare mentality as a counterargument to Brown v. Board of Education (1954).
The South also felt that white southern nationalism was being compromised by the progressive decisions of the Supreme Court and the watchful eye of an international audience intrigued and horrified by the Strange Fruit produced by southern panic. The Ku Klux Klan, the Citizen’s Council, and the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission (MSSC) used violence, intimidation, surveillance, and economic power to weaken those involved with the Civil Rights Movement.
However, the campaign to paint the Movement Red destroyed itself through its incendiary nature. Ultimately, Mississippi’s lawless nature and extreme violence, such as the murder of Medgar Evers, attracted attention to the South’s barbaric customs rather than convincing anyone of the subversive pulse within the Movement. In order to address the adoption and failure of Red Scare tactics, this project reviews the art and entertainment, speeches, newspaper clippings, and anti-Communist pamphlets collected from the MSSC file and their relationship to propaganda and white domination in Mississippi. Films, songs, and literature; acts, commissions, and laws all contributed to the environment that influenced Mississippi’s decision to play the subversive card in the volatile era of 1954-1964. Mississippi Senator James Eastland’s tirades before Congress, the Citizens Council’s Forum, The Citizen, and news articles from the Hederman-family controlled press exemplify the propaganda from the Magnolia State during this period, and examination of these items as collected by the MSSC reveals the mania issuing from the possibility of racial equity. As a lens into understanding recycled campaigns against equal rights, MSSC files during the ten years of the civil rights struggle, 1954-64, provide illustrative insights. A complex web emerges of cooperation among white nationalist organizations working against integration and taking cues from anti-Communist crusaders, while civil rights groups and African American leaders, loosely associated with Communism in actuality, shared at base the Communist dream of racial equality.
Ivy Meeropol, Heir to an Execution ed. Nancy Abraham. Blowback Productions; Warner Home Video, 2004. Jeff Woods, Black Struggle, Red Scare: Segregation and Anti-Communism in the South, 1948-1968 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 2004), 28.