On September 10, 1971, Matt
Koehl, leader of the National Socialist White People’s Party
(NSWPP), attempted to join the opposition to federally mandated
busing in Savannah.
Along with eight other men dressed in Nazi uniforms,
Koehl traveled from Arlington, Virginia, in a school bus adorned
with signs that read “boycott busing,” “gas race-mixers,” and
“White Power.” When they arrived at the Chatham
County Board of Education, Savannahians already gathered
there to oppose busing rejected their participation.
By making reference to the Jewish Holocaust of World War II,
the Nazi protesters
in this WSB-TV clip use intimidation and the threat of violence
to discourage integrationists. Police escort the group out of Savannah
city limits in response to the crowd’s resistance to their presence.
Although thousands of local protesters gathered throughout the month
to oppose the forced busing that came in response to poor enforcement
of the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown
v. Board of Education of Topeka, they rejected Nazi participation
in their efforts. They argued that they protested for the freedom
to make choices about their children’s education, unlike the Nazis
who united on the basis of white supremacy.
Koehl followed the example of his predecessor George
Lincoln Rockwell, who founded the American Nazi Party in 1959.
Before his assassination in 1967, Rockwell traveled to political
events and rallies in his swastika-decorated van to mock and intimidate Freedom
Riders. In 1966, the same year Koehl joined the Arlington
NSWPP staff, Rockwell renamed the organization. According to statements
made by Savannah police chief Al St. Lawrence, Koehl came to Savannah
in response to the request of local citizens not affiliated with
the anti-busing movement. Koehl told St. Lawrence that the crowd
welcomed his group until the men handed out the NSWPP’s newsletter
named “White Power.” That’s when the protesters verbally and physically
objected to the Nazis, effectively pushing them out of the demonstration.
On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board had
ruled that separate but equal was unconstitutional. This case negated
the 1896 Plessy
v. Ferguson ruling that provided the legal basis for Jim
Crow laws. The Court had called for desegregation “with all
deliberate speed,” but it established no deadlines or guidelines.
Ultimate responsibility for enforcement lay with President
Dwight D. Eisenhower, but he had refused to endorse the decision.
Not until 1969 in Alexander
v. Holmes County Board of Education did the Supreme Court
give the Brown v. Board ruling more force by establishing
guidelines toward reaching the goal of racially integrated schools.
In the aftermath of the Brown decision, segregationists
forged a campaign of massive resistance, often with the cooperation
of local courts and governing bodies. Like other social
movements of the 1970s and 1980s that came in the wake of black
civil rights agitations, the anti-bus activists appropriated strategies
made popular during the Civil
Rights Movement. Dr. Darnell Brawner, former
president of the school board, spearheaded Savannah’s own anti-busing
movement and founded the Interventors Group along with Henry McDowell.
Members of this organization, together with the Chatham Parents
Association, the Concerned Citizens Association, and other anti-busing
groups, held rallies in churches and stadiums, boycotted local schools,
marched at the City Hall and Board of Education, and petitioned
governmental officials in their efforts to reverse the tide of civil
even organized an anti-busing motorcade of four hundred automobiles
led by police officers on motorcycles and burned an effigy of Julian
C. H. Halligan, the school board president who had urged Savannah
residents to concede to busing. Enrollment in Savannah schools dropped
by one-third on September 3, 1971, the day of the boycott, and remained
low for the remainder of the month. Some parents
preferred to keep their children home rather than see them share
a classroom with African American students.
Resistance to busing increased in Savannah
after United States District Judge Alexander A. Lawrence presented
the city’s plan for immediate desegregation in late August of 1971.
Elected officials throughout the South, including Savannah mayor
John P. Rousakis, stood against forced school desegregation but
avoided affiliating with the Nazi group. Antibusing advocates in
Savannah worked to conceal their racial prejudices by arguing against
forced busing as a violation of parents' rights.
By refusing to allow the Nazis to participate in local anti-busing
efforts, Savannahians tried to disconnect their protest
symbolically from arguments of white supremacy.
Brown v. Board of Education ignited a firestorm of opposition
throughout the United States and proved that civil rights conflicts
were not limited to the southern states. As African American activists
demanded the decision's enforcement in the 1960s and 1970s, busing
increasingly focused national attention on issues of race.
At Charleston High School in
Boston, in a scene
reminiscent of experiences described by the Little
Rock Nine, police
had to rescue minority students from an angry crowd of white protesters.
Many believed the millions of dollars school districts spent busing
students to fulfill racial quotas would be better served
if allocated towards improving poor schools.
Resources (click here)
Printable Version (click here)
1. Read these documents produced
by the NSWPP. Why did Savannah residents and
other pro-segregationists oppose affiliating with the Nazis?
2. In the wake of national tensions about immigration, many Americans
who are pro-immigration have compared the government's treatment
of Chicanos to the violations of freedom and human rights that occurred
during the Jewish Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement. As this
article states, one of the slogans on the Nazis' bus was "gas
does this sign allude to the Jewish
and what are the implications of connecting the Holocaust to racial
hostilities that target African Americans and/or Latinos in America?
3. Read the article on the Ku
Klux Klan in the New
Georgia Encyclopedia. What connections and differences
do you find between the activities and goals of the Klan and those
of the National Socialist White People's Party?
4. Compose a list of founding dates of the private and public
high schools and colleges in your city or town.
How many of them were founded or chartered in the late sixties or
early seventies? Do you think that any of these schools were organized
as a response to the desegregation of the public schools?
Why or why not?
5. Read our article in the Freedom
on Film Atlanta
pages entitled the
Desegregation of Atlanta Schools. Does it surprise
you that some blacks in Atlanta and Savannah opposed busing? What
reasons might black American parents have to consider keeping their
children in segregated or all-black schools?
Take it to the Streets!
Assign members of the class the task of role-playing
families adjusting to the first day in a desegregated school system.
Make certain to include characters who represent a variety of viewpoints:
those who support desegregation (both black and white parents);
those who oppose segregation (black and white parents); city officials
on both sides of the question; students; teachers; and the media.
Writer: Christina L. Davis
and Researchers: Kamille Bostick, Christina L. Davis, and Professor
Site Designer: William Weems
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