History Forum: White women and their role in upholding white supremacy

A black and white photo of protestors holding signs.
Protestors supporting segregation and states rights stand outside of William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans in 1960.
Bettman | Getty Images

Much of the historical knowledge of white supremacy in America is focused on what white men were doing to uphold it. Especially white men in KKK robes.

Historian Elizabeth Gillespie McRae says we need to shift our historical focus and consider that white women played a big role in establishing and maintaining white supremacy in America.

She calls these women the "constant gardeners of segregation" and the “female foot soldiers of the Jim Crow south.”

Elizabeth Gillespie McRae is author of, "Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy."

McRae suggests that we look beyond acts of violence to see the everyday structures and institutions that reinforce white supremacy. And see the works of people inside mainstream society.

White supremacist politics has deep roots. White supremacy in America is not a sporadic episode, McRae says, or the work of a single leader.

Professor McRae teaches history at Western Carolina University, and spoke in St. Paul on Dec. 14, 2019, at the Minnesota Historical Society's "History Forum."

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