Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Aram Goudsouzian

Committee Member

Janann Sherman

Committee Member

Sarah Potter

Committee Member

Charles McKinney


Between 1958 and 1964 the citizens of black-majority populations in adjoining West Tennessee counties struggled to claim and exercise citizens' rights to participate in civil society. Voting rights activism amon the black community was answered with an economic embargo conducted by county officials and the busines community. Voting rights were the fracture point in civic society as both counties made the change from tenant to mechanized agriculture and wrestled over the civil and economic position of a no-longer-necessary laboring population. This study examines voter registration as a catalyst of socioeconomic change and social discourse in rural America. During the 1960s traditional plantation agriculture and sharecropping collapsed for good under the weight of postwar economic modernization, civic awareness among the black poulace, and the inability to provide a defensible legal argument for traditional segregation against challenges by federal liberalism. Chapters examine the general economic and social setting prior to 1958 and social assumptions in dependency/paternalism relationships, including the stated and unstated concept of place in these stratified societies; the awakening and assertion of civic participation among the black populace and why voting challenged well-established dependency/paternalism relationships; tactics of economic repression adipted to coerce registered voters to leave the county or return to dependence; the role of federal investigators and the Justice Department in combating segregation and replacing one form of liberalism with another; the efforts and results of activists from outside Tennessee; and the range of responses among the white communities. Includes a timeline of the local conflict (1940-2012) as an appendix. This work argues that the political challenge over voting in these two counties represented fundamental opposing perspectives and differing interpretations of the nature of rights within the public sphere. Racism and segregation involves abstract views about the fundamental way American civil society is constructed, for which color served as a convenient marker.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.