Finley authors book on civil rights and the South, 'Delaying the Dream'
Contact: Christina Chapple
HAMMOND – A new book by Southeastern Louisiana University history instructor Keith Finley, assistant director of the university’s Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies, describes how U.S. Senators thwarted the civil rights struggle for decades by the wily use of “strategic delay.”
“Delaying the Dream: Southern Senators and the Fight against Civil Rights, 1938-1965,” was issued this month as part of LSU Press’s “Making the Modern South” series.
While many historical accounts of the civil rights era focus on the ferocity of white resistance, Finley points out that adversaries also employed less confrontational tactics to deny equal rights to black Americans. “Delaying the Dream” examines how the south’s national spokesmen -- its United States senators – continually used delaying tactics to block legislation.
Finley said he became interested in the topic while working on his graduate thesis at Southeastern. He received his master’s degree in 1999 and also holds a doctoral degree from LSU and bachelor’s degree from Gettysburg College.
“I was researching Lyndon Johnson’s role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957,” he said. “I noticed that all of my preconceptions regarding the nature of southern tactics in the Senate were incorrect. The senators offered well-reasoned legal critiques of the bill that appealed to a national rather than a sectional audience.
“I was expecting incessant and blatant racism – which, of course, was evident – but in far less ferocity than I anticipated,” Finley said. “This revelation prompted an expansion of my research to include the periods both before and after the 1957 bill.”
Prior to World War II, Finley explains, southern senators recognized the fall of segregation as inevitable and consciously changed their tactics to delay, rather than prevent, defeat, enabling them to frustrate civil rights advances for decades. As public support for civil rights grew, southern senators transformed their arguments, curtailing overt racism and linking their defense of segregation with constitutional principles to curry favor with non-southern politicians.
While the senators were successful at the federal level, Finley shows, they failed to challenge local racial agitators in the South, allowing extremism to flourish.
“The escalation of white assaults on peaceful protesters in the 1950s and 1960s finally prompted northerners to question southern claims of tranquility under Jim Crow,” Finley said. “When they did, segregation came under direct attack, and the principles that had informed strategic delay became obsolete.”
According to LSU Press, “Finley's analysis goes beyond traditional images of the quest for racial equality -- the heroic struggle, the southern extremism, the filibusters -- to reveal another side to the conflict. By focusing on strategic delay and the senators' foresight in recognizing the need for this tactic, ‘Delaying the Dream’ adds a fresh perspective to the canon on the civil rights era in modern American history.”
The book is available from LSU Press and through a variety of online sites. Finley has also published an article on the early career of Russell Long in “Louisiana History,” and co-authored scripts for two Environmental Protection Agency-funded films on the consequences of coastal erosion and the history of the Manchac swamp.