The Littlest Rebel: James J. Kilpatrick and the Second Civil War

Constitutional Commentary, Vol. 10, No. 1, pp. 19-36, Winter 1993

19 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2011

See all articles by Garrett Epps

Garrett Epps

University of Baltimore School of Law

Date Written: Winter 1993


In 1955 and 1956, James Jackson Kilpatrick, the 35-year-old editor of The Richmond News Leader, began a single-minded, and successful, crusade to transform the evolving regional debate about how the South should respond to the Supreme Court's decision in The School Segregation Cases. Of the possible responses, Kilpatrick advocated one of the most extreme: the "interposition" of state power to defy the court and thwart the implementation of its order. He revived, elaborated, and publicized an intricate set of constitutional arguments that purported to demonstrate that any state in disagreement with a Court decision had the legal right to block it, and further argued that the South might, by adopting his plan, be able to prevent school desegregation permanently. Kilpatrick's arguments had a major impact on the regional response to Brown.

This article is not concerned with the racist ideology of segregation - though in that field, too, Kilpatrick made a major contribution. And the article is only peripherally concerned with the anguished, and often sincere, arguments constructed by white Southern conservatives that Brown itself was wrongly decided. Instead, the article is concerned with the specific constitutional arguments - borrowed from the far fringes of the Southern right and moved by Kilpatrick's patronage into the Southern white mainstream - that purported to justify segregationist politicians' use of the power of state government to frustrate the implementation of Brown.

Keywords: South, School Segregation Cases, James J. Kilpatrick, Supreme Court, racism, discrimination, white Southern conservatives, Brown v. Board of Education, constitutional law, journalists, journalism, constitutional debate

JEL Classification: I28, K19, K39, K49, J79

Suggested Citation

Epps, Garrett, The Littlest Rebel: James J. Kilpatrick and the Second Civil War (Winter 1993). Constitutional Commentary, Vol. 10, No. 1, pp. 19-36, Winter 1993, Available at SSRN: or

Garrett Epps (Contact Author)

University of Baltimore School of Law ( email )

1420 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21218
United States

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