Millions of white Americans joined a mass movement of committed and often violent opposition to the Civil Rights Movement.


The story of the American Civil Rights Movement is familiar: courageous activists waged an epic struggle, faced great risks, and suffered tragic losses to achieve victories that forever changed the nation.

Segregation in America tells the lesser-known story of national opposition to civil rights and racial equality. White Americans concentrated in the South and influential throughout the country conducted a widespread, organized, and determined campaign to defend segregation and white supremacy.

Racist politicians enjoyed support from the majority of white voters; the Ku Klux Klan claimed many of the South’s most prominent and powerful citizens as members; and white perpetrators of vicious attacks on black people were regularly acquitted by all-white juries. School closures, economic reprisals, arrests and harassment, mob violence, bombings, and murder were bold, public acts that cannot be dismissed as the work of extremists.

The mass opposition to civil rights was led by elected officials, journalists, and white leaders who espoused virulently racist ideologies, shut down public schools and parks to prevent integration, and encouraged violence against civil rights activists. This project profiles dozens of these segregationist leaders, who repeatedly won re-elections to the highest political offices and were accommodated and embraced by our political, social, and cultural institutions. Segregation in America makes the case that our failure to repudiate segregationists and their ideologies allowed segregation to infect our modern institutions.

The Confederate iconography that saturates our American landscape has gained national attention in recent years, but many Americans do not realize that scores of Confederate monuments were installed in the 1950s and 60s as part of the mass opposition to civil rights and racial equality. More than 1500 Confederate monuments across the United States, including dozens outside the South, can be explored in this interactive map.

Segregation in America is the third report in a series on America’s history of racial injustice. In 2013, EJI issued Slavery in America, which focused on the domestic slave trade and its legacy. That research and work led to the creation of the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, which opened in April in Montgomery, Alabama. In 2015, EJI published Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, which inspired another new cultural space in Montgomery, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

Segregation in America is a critical piece of the narrative of American history. It argues that our failure to confront our history of racial inequality has allowed segregation to endure. The United States is still compromised by widespread bias and bigotry. We are still infected with false narratives of racial difference that marginalize and create hatred, prejudice, and discrimination against people of color. Black and brown people are burdened with a presumption of guilt and dangerousness that is evident in myriad ways.

EJI believes that understanding this mass opposition to racial equality, integration, and civil rights is central to confronting the continuing challenges of racial inequality today.


EJI challenges racial and economic injustice and provides legal representation to people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced, or abused in jails and prisons. Founded in 1989 by Bryan Stevenson, a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer and bestselling author of Just Mercy, EJI is a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Learn more about EJI.

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