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In the decades after the end of the Civil War, avowed white supremacists across the South sought to “redeem” their state and county governments from the clutches of the hated “radicals” who had taken control during Reconstruction. These Redeemers developed an approach to local power and local control that served their broader political goal of reestablishing white supremacist rule. In their effort to ensure that white citizens were not subjected to “negro rule,” they developed a “Redemption Localism” that consistently sought to limit local power, curtail local democracy, and defund or eliminate local services. This Article tells the story of Redemption Localism as it operated in one state: North Carolina. But I argue that this story has much to teach us about localism across the post-Civil War South and about our localism today. While much of the scholarly conversation about localism focuses on the virtues (and vices) of local control versus centralization, the question for Redeemers was never whether, as an abstract matter, local control was preferable to centralized control. Rather, at decision point after decision point, the question was how the balance between local and state power could be manipulated and adjusted to protect the Redeemers’ political power and further the struggle for white supremacy. This instrumental attitude towards localism remains familiar today as the tools and structures of local power are manipulated to suppress Black voting power, dilute the voices of multiracial local democracies, and maintain existing distributions of power, wealth, and privilege.


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7 Sep 2022
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  • Subject
    • Civil Rights and Discrimination

    • Human Rights Law

    • Legal History

    • Race and Ethnicity

    • State and Local Government Law

  • Journal title
    • North Carolina Law Review

  • Volume
    • 100

  • Issue
    • 5

  • Pagination
    • 1527-1556

  • Date submitted

    7 September 2022