Maybe I Got a Bum Calendar

But on all the ones I can find hereabouts, what we can call the violent phase, or at least the publicly violent phase, of the Civil Rights Era didn’t really get going until the late 1950s and of course the early 1960s.  True, Emmett Till was murdered in 1955, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott was 1955-56.  Both of those events sparked enormous public interest and outrage.  Eisenhower sent the federal army to Little Rock in 1957.

So the author of this piece is partially correct that during the period she seems to focus on, 1950-63, the existence and enforcement of, and the struggle against, racial segregation was beginning to occupy a much greater bandwidth (sorry for the anachronistic use of the expression) in common American awareness than it had until that point.  Across Black America, of course, it had never not occupied stage center.  What with two world wars and a Great Depression sandwiched between them, however, most of the country outside the old Confederacy just had other problems to think about.  However poorly it speaks of human nature in general, when your own children are inadequately clothed for an Upper Midwest winter, you’re just not likely to spare a whole lot of energy thinking about the oppression of some child several hundred miles away.  As cruel as it may be to say it, but worrying about “social justice” is a luxury for societies who can feed, clothe, and house themselves.

On the other hand, Brown v. Board of Education (actually, it was the second round of that litigation that became famous) was a case from Topeka, Kansas.  Not exactly Spanish-moss Mississippi, in other words.  And that case wasn’t decided until 1954.

So there’s a bit of a problem with presenting the — I hesitate to call it “dominance,” but then I’ve never paid any attention to the beauty pageant scene, and I do understand that with the possible exception of a mafia turf war, it can be one of the more vicious venues of human interaction — of the old Confederacy as some sort of regional or even supra-regional conspiracy to whitewash the racial poisons of the place.  According to the author the run started in 1950, but by any reasonable standard the civil rights fireworks as something splashed across the news on a nearly daily basis would not have begun until the latter half of the decade at the earliest.  The Freedom Riders came in 1961.  Medgar Evers was murdered in 1963.  The Selma-to-Montgomery march was in 1960.  Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were murdered in 1964.  The 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed in 1963.  Wikipedia has a pretty comprehensive time line of the civil rights era, and looking at it you can see that while things were by no measure quiet during the 1950s, they didn’t really begin to hot up until the later part of the decade.

In short, the time frames for the two developments this author wants to correlate just don’t match up.  Post hoc ergo propter hoc may be a hoary logical fallacy, but pre hoc ergo propter hoc is goofy.  And according to this article the Southern girls’ run pre-dated the mass consciousness of the Civil Rights Movement by a half-decade or more.  More to the point, time line or no time line, how do you present contestants from one-fifth of the pool winning fifty percent of the time as being a quasi-conspiracy of Southerners to gloss over events in the South without some pretty massive assistance from contest judges from around the country over the course of fourteen years?

And of course the run died out in 1963, which would have been shortly after the time things really started to get very publicly ugly.  To the extent that the effort behind seven Southern girls winning the Miss America crown in fourteen years was some sort of effort to distract public attention from what was going on in the South or as some kind of loopy compensatory behavior, it has to be counted one of the least successful P.R. efforts in history.

As stated, I’m probably the last person on earth who’s fully competent to opine on the dynamics of beauty pageants and what makes them go, but if I were looking for a plausible explanation of why girls from one specific part of the country did disproportionately well over a period of time, I’d refer the gentle reader back to Florence King’s Southern Ladies and Gentlemen, a book which, while hilarious as all get out and certainly more than a little tongue-in-cheek, still has a hard kernel of truth at its core.  And the world it describes strikes me as nearly a perfect petri dish for beauty contest champions as anything conceivable.  [Every time I read her (no doubt made-up) example of a wedding announcement garbled together with tobacco price quotations I nearly wet myself.  It’s that funny.]

One of the more tiresome aspects of public discourse outside the South is how everything relating to what is happening or has happened inside the South is, however strenuous the effort, somehow tied back to Keeping the Black Man Down.  It’s as if nothing else ever happened, and everyone bent his thoughts, hopes, and efforts solely to one objective.  I’m quite comfortable that for some people, some places, some of the time, that was true.  But then in all places, at all times, and with all large issues, there have been people who made that issue the core of their existence.  OK.  But trotting out the stick-to-beat-the-South with every time you’ve got some otherwise empty newsprint to fill up is tedious and not terribly enlightening any more.  On the other hand, if the New York Times is reduced to running articles demonstrating how beauty pageants are the most-recently discovered mechanism for perpetuating White Supremacy in the South, then surely they can’t be far from the bottom of the barrel.  What’s next, a solemn piece on “Racial Politics and Traffic Control Devices in the South, 1948-67”?

Gimme Flo King and ornate piercin’.

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