Started in May 1963 by nine white men at a gas station outside Natchez, Americans for the Preservation of the White Race (APWR) was one of several new Mississippi organizations that formed to oppose the civil rights movement. The first issue of the group’s newspaper, American Patriot, included a policy statement asserting, “Americans for the Preservation of the White Race, Inc., is an organization dedicated to keeping the White Man White and the Black Man Black like GOD intended.” Led by its first president, charter member Rowland N. Scott of Natchez, the group had more than twenty chapters by 1964, primarily in central and southwestern Mississippi and in Louisiana. The short-lived group attracted working-class and some middle-class whites who were not only horrified by the civil rights movement but also concerned about what they saw as the moderation of some of the state’s leaders in business, education, and government.
The APWRand many other massive resistance groups claimed not to represent extremists or supporters of violence. Like the Citizens’ Councils, the APWRhosted talks by right-wing leaders: speakers at APWR meetings in 1963–64 included former governor Ross Barnett, Judge Tom Brady, Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker, and several state legislators and ministers. The group’s language varied between calls for American patriotism and angry denunciations of opponents of white supremacy. A newsletter argued in 1964 that “the only thing extreme about the organization is that we advocate ‘extreme conservatism,’ which the whole country needs a dose of.” Group leaders officially rejected violence, but some members belonged to the Ku Klux Klan and announced that they had armed themselves in preparation for the Mississippi Summer Project in 1964. Some members at the state fair in 1967 sold booklets explaining how to construct homemade bombs and raised money to help defend the men accused of murdering activist Vernon Dahmer.
As historian Joseph Crespino argues, the APWR was one of the groups, like the Ku Klux Klan, that Mississippi leaders, even those in the Citizens’ Council and government agencies such as the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, feared as a consequence of the potential for violence and bad publicity. While many white leaders were taking slow and small steps in the mid-1960s to avoid inflaming tensions or encouraging the federal government to take new action against injustices in Mississippi, the APWR took a hard line. Members condemned Erle Johnston, head of the Sovereignty Commission, for saying that the APWR “stirred whites against whites.”
Above all, the APWRused economic pressure against white business leaders who supported some forms of desegregation. The group’s leaders organized a boycott against Carthage merchants who did business with a black-owned grocery popular among civil rights activists. More dramatically, the APWRorganized a “buy-in” campaign to counter a sustained civil rights boycott of stores in downtown Natchez and then fumed when some business leaders agreed to the boycotters’ demands. In early December 1964 the group asked white shoppers throughout the region to shop in downtown Natchez but denounced twenty-three businessmen who had signed an agreement ending the boycott. The APWRlater took the same approach to oppose civil rights efforts in Fayette and Edwards.
The APWRremains a fairly mysterious group. The fact that the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission amassed files on the organization shows that people in a very conservative state government considered the AWPR’s tactics a threat to social order. The group was in decline by 1965 and seems to have disappeared by 1968.
- Joseph Crespino, In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution (2007)
- Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission files on the Americans for the Preservation of the White Race, Mississippi Department of Archives and History