In the run-up to the US Election on 8 November, Emma Folwell tells us a little more about her research on new conservatism and community activism.



Community activism has a strong and vibrant history in America. As part of the ‘long civil rights movement’ community action shaped the interaction between the federal government and poor communities across the US. I have explored the nature and development of this community action in the Deep South, in the later stages of the black freedom struggle. My research used the community action programs of President Johnson’s war on poverty as a prism through which to examine the evolution of the massive resistance to the civil rights movement after 1965 in Mississippi. 

In the heart of the Deep South, community action was initially adopted by civil rights activists to pursue the economic security that would bring meaning to their newly won political rights. But community action programs were soon co-opted by the white power structure. Mississippi’s politicians oversaw the creation of integrated antipoverty programs – biracial cooperation which was lauded as a sign of racial progress in the ‘closed society’. However these programs soon developed beyond conduits for community action, becoming mechanisms which suppressed black activism and preserved the racial status quo.

Examining community activism during the war on poverty limits our understanding of its power and significance. As a number of works have illustrated, community activism has a powerful legacy. But it has – perhaps – even longer roots. My next project explores the development of this community activism before the advent of federal social welfare programs. In communities across the country, voluntary activism in black communities – particularly by women – shaped the welfare of poor Americans. My project explores the professionalisation of social welfare, and interrogates the genesis of the interconnections between race, gender and welfare.

My first monograph, Poverty Wars in Mississippi, will be published in 2017 with the University of Florida Press.

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