Blackboard Jungle: Delinquency, Desegregation, and the Cultural Politics of Brown
40 Pages Posted: 22 Dec 2009 Last revised: 17 Feb 2011
Date Written: December 22, 2009
In 1955, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released a controversial film about juvenile delinquency entitled Blackboard Jungle. Georgia Governor Ernest Vandiver subsequently used the film as a metaphor for what would happen to southern schools were Brown v. Board of Education enforced, marking the beginnings of a much larger campaign to re-articulate southern resistance to integration in popular terms. Taking the intersection between discourses of delinquency and desegregation at mid-century as a starting point, this article advances three claims. One, the NAACP’s reliance on sociological evidence in Brown was a strategic attempt to align black interests with concerns over child development popular at the time. Two, the NAACP’s emphasis on child development sparked a pitched battle between civil rights activists and segregationists over the framing of youth and rights in the realm of popular culture, a contest that has so far gone undocumented. Three, Brown did not simply trigger an extremist backlash, but pushed southern moderates to expand the scope and reach of southern criminal justice, a move that increased youth services even as it opened the door for aggressive prosecutions of teenage demonstrators as delinquents in the 1960s.
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