Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 December 2018
Exploiting a range of archival materials, we argue that state-level variation in judicial backlash to Brown was as much the result of strategic choices by southern political elites as it was the ingrained prejudices of the region's white voters. Presenting case studies of massive resistance in Mississippi, Louisiana, Virginia, and Arkansas, we show that elite agency profoundly shaped the patchwork development of grassroots resistance to integration across the South. These findings challenge the prevailing view that backlash to Brown signaled the unequivocal triumph of racial conservatives. Rather, we argue that the region's response offered individual members of the southern elite significant autonomy to direct massive resistance in their home states. We also argue that southern lawmakers were responsible for the South's embrace of popular constitutionalism post-Brown, and thus that it may not have been “popular” at all. We conclude that studies of judicial backlash would do well to reevaluate the assumption that backlash is necessarily a grassroots phenomenon.