Reporting Race and Resistance in Dixie: The White Mississippi Press and Civil Rights, 1944-1964

Rebecca Miller Davis, University of South Carolina


During the 1950s and 1960s, the nation viewed Mississippi as the 'most terrible place in America,' known for mobs, kidnappings, and lynchings. Due to this well-publicized violence, many regarded all white Mississippians as the same--violent, backward, and racist. The period from 1944 to 1964, with Theodore Bilbo's race-baiting Senate campaign, formation of the Citizens' Council, lynching of Emmett Till, rioting in Oxford, assassination of Medgar Evers, and murder of three civil rights workers, the state certainly earned this reputation. Singer Nina Simone insisted that 'everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam!,' but this dissertation reveals that there is much that we did not know about the state during the pivotal civil rights years. In the process of telling this familiar story, many previous studies oversimplified segregationists and, in the process, missed a great deal. By studying white Mississippi press coverage, this work reveals a more nuanced response than the popular stereotype suggests, exposing multi-faceted, complex, and conflicting opinions on race in this often-misunderstood state. By analyzing the media produced by white Mississippians for white Mississippians, one can understand how 'normal' people understood the racial crisis consuming their state.