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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 enforced, marking the beginnings of a much larger campaign to articulate southern resistance to integration in popular terms. Taking Blackboard Jungle as a starting point, this article recovers the intersection between discourses of delinquency and desegregation at mid-century, showing how civil rights groups and segregationists alike both drew from mass culture and social psychiatry to advance their constitutional agendas. It concludes by showing that even as civil rights activists and white extremists used delinquency discursively, southern moderates channeled concerns over delinquency and desegregation into legal reform.


2009 Law and Humanities Junior Scholar Workshop selection.