44 Photos From The Anti-Civil Rights Movement That United Most Of White America In The 1960s

Published August 1, 2020
Published August 1, 2020

As the civil rights movement brought attention to Black Americans' struggle for equality, whites across the country launched a brutal counter-movement.

American Nazi By The Lincoln Memorial
George Wallace
Anti Busing Demonstration In Boston
Black Children Pass Busing Protestors
44 Photos From The Anti-Civil Rights Movement That United Most Of White America In The 1960s
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In 1963, 78 percent of white Americans said they would leave their neighborhoods if Black families moved in. Meanwhile, 60 percent of them had an unfavorable view of Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington. All in all, many white people were not afraid to say they opposed the civil rights movement while it was actually happening.

The Alabama newspaper Montgomery Advertiser loudly declared in 1955, "The white man's economic artillery is far superior, better emplaced, and commanded by more experienced gunners. Second, the white man holds all the offices of government machinery. There will be white rule for as far as the eye can see. Are those not facts of life?"

But it wasn't just people in the South who had a problem with civil rights. In 1964, a majority of white New Yorkers said the civil rights movement had gone too far. All across the country, many people shared that view.

The Fight To Keep America Segregated

White Man Tears Signs

Underwood Archives/Getty ImagesA white teenager rips up a civil rights sign outside a Tallahassee store in 1960.

After the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia said, "If we can organize the Southern States for massive resistance to this order, I think that in time the rest of the country will realize that racial integration is not going to be accepted in the South."

So as civil rights activists marched in the streets for integration, their opponents also mobilized. They jeered and harassed Black students – some as young as six years old – who enrolled in previously all-white schools. They pulled their children from public schools and sent them to private ones. And they attacked Black communities using the power of the state.

Alabama's governor George Wallace vowed, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever," in his 1963 inaugural address. Under Wallace, state troopers and police officers carried out his segregationist vision using the power of government.

Schools Were The Front Lines Of The Fight

James Meredith With Marshals

Wikimedia CommonsIn 1962, James Meredith became the first African American student to attend the University of Mississippi.

Meanwhile, many schools in the South became a battlefield in the fight as mobs of white protestors threw rocks and bottles at Black students.

When a six-year-old Black girl named Ruby Bridges integrated a New Orleans elementary school in 1960, a white woman shoved a coffin holding a Black doll in the child's face. Other white protestors threatened to hang Ruby.

In 1957, segregationists called the parents of Black first graders in Tennessee, threatening to shoot, hang, or bomb anyone who sent their children to the previously all-white elementary schools. One Black student attended Hattie Cotton Elementary School on the first day of classes in 1957 – and that night, white supremacists blew up the school.

Violent protests and states ignoring federal orders kept nearly all Southern schools segregated well into the 1960s. In 1964, just 2.3 percent of Black students attended schools that were majority-white.

The Anti-Civil Rights Movement Was National, Not Just Southern

Anti Busing Demonstration In Boston

Boston Globe/Getty ImagesAn anti-busing group holds a massive protest in Boston in 1973.

Opposition to the civil rights movement was not restricted to the South. In fact, by 1970, residential segregation was worse in the North and West than in the South.

A counter-protester threw a rock at Martin Luther King Jr. during a 1966 march in Chicago. "I have seen many demonstrations in the south but I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I've seen here today," King said of the march.

In Boston, the 1974 busing crisis saw white parents leave their school district altogether rather than send their children to integrated schools.

Many of them participated in anti-busing protests, resisting the city's plan for buses that took Black students to majority-white schools and white students to majority-Black schools.

Meanwhile, some other people in the North voiced more explicit support for segregation — and racist views on interracial marriage.

Orville Hubbard, the mayor of Dearborn, Michigan from 1942 to 1978, told the New York Times, "I favor segregation, because if you have integration, first you have kids going to school together, then next thing you know, they're grab-assing around, then they're getting married and having half-breed kids. Then you wind up with a mongrel race. And from what I know of history, that's the end of civilization."

The Anti-Civil Rights Movement Continued After The 1960s

Although the civil rights movement achieved major legislative and legal victories, opposition to civil rights continued.

However, the language of civil rights opponents changed after the 1960s. Instead of using the N-word, explained Reagan advisor Lee Atwater, "You say stuff like forced busing, states' rights, and all that stuff."

Coded language like "law and order" also signaled opposition to Black rights. During the 1988 presidential campaign, George Bush's Willie Horton ad implied his opponent's "soft on crime" policies allowed a Black convict to rape a white woman.

Perhaps even more publicly, many states erected Confederate monuments after the civil rights movement. In Tennessee, at least 30 Confederate monuments went up after 1976.

More than a century after the South lost the war, these monuments reminded many Americans of "white rule."


The images only tell part of the story. Learn more about the anti-civil rights movement and then see the effort to integrate schools from a new angle.

Genevieve Carlton
Genevieve Carlton is a freelance writer with a Ph.D in history.