Unlikely Dissenters:
White Southern Women in the Fight for Racial Justice, 1920–1970

Anne Stefani

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"Stefani redefines the proverbial 'southern lady' with a close look at over fifty white, anti-racist women. Concentrating on traits that linked these women across two generations, Unlikely Dissenters provides the first comprehensive study of how these southern women both employed and destroyed a stereotype."--Gail S. Murray, editor of Throwing Off the Cloak of Privilege

"Presents a sophisticated and well-supported argument that women such as Lillian Smith, Virginia Durr, and Anne Braden challenged white supremacy at its core while knowing that they would be regarded as traitors to their race, region, and gender in doing so."--Peter B. Levy, author of Civil War on Race Street


Between 1920 and 1970, a small but significant number of white women confronted the segregationist system in the American South, ultimately contributing to its demise. For many of these reformers, the struggle for African American civil rights was akin to their own complex process of personal emancipation from gender norms. As part of the white community, they wrestled with guilt as members of the "oppressor" group. Yet as women in a patriarchal society, they were also "victims." This paradoxical double identity enabled them to develop a special brand of activism that combatted white supremacy while emancipating them from white patriarchy.

Using the 1954 Brown decision as a pivot, Anne Stefani examines and compares two generations of white women who spoke out against Jim Crow while remaining deeply attached to their native South. She demonstrates how their unique grassroots community-oriented activism functioned within--and even used to its advantage--southern standards of respectability.

Anne Stefani is professor of American studies at the University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès.
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An eye-opening account of southern white women who worked to challenge racial segregation. . . . Highly recommended.-- CHOICE

Stefani does a stellar job of chronicling southern white women’s confrontation with segregation and white supremacy....A welcome contribution to the growing historiography of little-known civil rights heroines.-- North Carolina Historical Review

Her intersectional analysis of her subjects’ engagement with the long civil rights movement renders her study innovative....[An] insightful volume on the intersection of race, gender, and regionalism for a small yet important cadre of female civil rights activists.-- Journal of American History

An engaging history of southern white women who fought for racial justice. . . . Brings to life a small but important group of women who worked hard to change the South.-- American Historical Review

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