Professor George Lewis
Professor of American History
Professor George Lewis researches race and racism in the United States, with a particular focus on ideologies of white supremacy. His expertise in modern US history also includes civil rights, segregation, the ideologies of Americanism and un-Americanism and the American South. He is currently exploring long histories of the idea of un-American activities.
Professor Lewis’ research is key to placing current upheavals in US activism and politics in their longer historical context. He has published widely on ideologies of white supremacy in the US context. His project to create a long history of the idea of un-Americanism helps to place recent events – notably the 6 January 2020 'Capitol insurrection' – into an arc of national contestation over what constitutes 'patriotic dissent' that reaches back into the eighteenth century.
My research falls into two main areas. Much of my work has focused on race relations in the South of the United States. In particular, I have concentrated on the ideology of southern segregationists and white supremacists, especially the way in which segregationists sought to develop responses to civil rights activity after the Second World War in the period known by contemporaries and scholars alike as "Massive Resistance." That research has included a detailed examination of the ways in which anti-communism was deployed as a weapon of white supremacy in the 1950s and 1960s, and of the various ways in which the Cold War impacted upon the southern campaign to maintain segregation, which resulted in my first monograph, The White South and the Red Menace. Having been successful in the competition for research leave funding from the AHRC, I completed a second book, Massive Resistance: the White Response to the Civil Rights Movement. My interest in the ideology of segregation has also developed into a study of the ways in which a number of the South’s white supremacists sought to forge links with a national audience, not least through their attempts to plug into the emerging mood of national conservatism at the end of the 1960s. This, I have argued, represented the segregationists’ “northern strategy”. In 2007, I spoke on the subject of race relations to the directors and cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Noughts and Crosses, and have been a regular contributor to Leicester’s celebration of black history month.
I am also interested in the long history of the term “un-American.” I received a three-year British Academy Research Development Award [BARDA] for a project on “Un-Americans: Ideological Dissent, Patriotic Subversion and Isolating the “Other” in the USA.” That funding has sustained a number of related projects designed to produce the first sustained history of the “un-American” and those who were labelled “un-Americans,” from the origins of the term in the late eighteenth century to its twentieth century incarnations. That project has included an international conference, “Un-Americans and the Un-American: From 1776 to 9/11,” which took place at the University of Leicester in 2010, the “Un-American” Special Issue of the Journal of American Studies, a number of chapters and articles, and a forthcoming monograph.
My current research project is funded by a three year British Academy Research Development Award [BARDA] (entitled Un-Americans: Ideological Dissent, Patriotic Subversion and Isolating the “Other” in the USA). By using a series of chronological case studies, it will produce the first sustained history of the “un-American” and those who were labelled “un-Americans,” from the origins of the term in the late eighteenth century to its twentieth century incarnations. The project will culminate in an international conference and a monograph.
- Massive Resistance: The White Response to the Civil Rights Movement (London: Hodder, 2006) ISBN: 978-0-340-90022-2, pp. i-viii, 1-254
- The White South and the Red Menace: Segregationists, Anticommunism, and Massive Resistance, 1945-1965 (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004)
Articles and journals
- “Sidelining Selma’s Segregationists: Memory, Strategy, Ideology and Agency,” in Joe Street and Henry Knight Lozano [eds.], The Shadow of Selma (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2018), pp. 171-195.
- “The End of Military Heroism: The American Legion and ‘Service,’ 1919-1941,” in Simon Wendt [ed.], Warring Over Valor: How Race and Gender Shaped American Military Heroism in the C20th and C21st Centuries (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2018).
- “Radicalism, Counter-Radicalism, and The American Legion, 1919-1940,” Radical Americas, Vol 2, No 1 (July 2017) pp. 1-21.
- “Memories of the Movement: Civil Rights, the Liberal Consensus, and the March Twenty Years Later,” in Iwan Morgan and Robert Mason [eds.], The Liberal Consensus Reconsidered: American Politics and Society in the Postwar Era (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2017), pp.262-281.
- Editor, Special Issue on The Un-American, and “An Un-American Introduction,” Journal of American Studies, Vol. 47, No. 04: pp. 871-879
- “‘An Amorphous Code’: The Ku Klux Klan and Un-Americanism, 1915–1965,” Journal of American Studies, Vol. 47, No. 04: pp. 971-992
- "‘Complicated Hospitality’: The Impact of the Sit-Ins on the Ideology of Southern Segregationists," in Morgan and Davies [eds.] From Sit-Ins to SNCC: Student Civil Rights Protest in the 1960s (University Press of Florida, forthcoming)
- "Barack Hussein Obama: the Use of History in the Creation of an ‘American’ President," Patterns of Prejudice, Vol. 45, Nos. 1-2 (2011): 43-61.
- “‘A Gigantic Battle to Win Men’s Minds’: The NAACP’s Public Relations Department and post-Brown Propaganda,” in Verney & Sartain [eds.] One Hundred Years of the NAACP (University of Arkansas Press, 2009)
- "Virginia's Northern Strategy: Southern Segregationists and the Route to National Conservatism," Journal of Southern History, Vol. 72, No. 1 (February 2006): pp. 111-146
- '"White South, Red Nation": Massive Resistance in the Cold War' in C. Webb (ed.), Massive Resistance: Southern Opposition to the Second Reconstruction (New York: OUP, 2005), pp. 117-135
- "Scientific Certainty": Wesley Critz George, Racial Science and Orgainsed White Resistance in North Carolina, 1954-1962' Journal of American Studies, Vol. 8, 2 (2004), pp. 227-247
- "Any Old Joe Named Zilch?" The 1958 Senatorial Campaign of Dr Louise Oftedal Wensel' Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol 107, 3 (Summer 1999), pp. 287-316
- Not So Well Red: Native Americans in the Southern Civil Rights Movement Reconsidered' Borderlines: Studies in American Culture, Vol 3, 4 (Winter 1996-1997), pp. 362-375.
My primary areas of supervision expertise are: US race relations and southern politics; the civil rights movement; white supremacy and resistance; the “new conservatism”; and competing notions of Americanism and un-Americanism. All of my PhD students have completed their projects successfully, including those who have gone on to full-time academic posts, such as Dr Emma Folwell. I have successfully mentored students to full AHRC funding through the Midlands 3Cities consortium, including Scott Weightman.
The Leicester University library now has an impressive array of primary source material to support research into such areas, including the 18 reels of microfilm that make up the NAACP Papers (Part 20) White Resistance and Reprisals, 1956-1965, a microfilm collection of The FBI Files on Malcolm X, and the published Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr
My teaching focuses on the modern United States. In particular, it revolves around the research I have undertaken in two areas: race relations, civil rights, racism and white supremacy; and, secondly, on American radicalism, anti-radicalism and anti-Communism. Thus, I have taught courses on Race & Ethnicity in American Life, the US Civil Rights Movement, American Slavery, the Rhetoric and Reality of White Supremacy, and McCarthyism and Domestic Anti-Communism.
Examples of modules I teach:
- McCarthy's America: Domestic Anti-Communism in the USA, 1830-1990
- The Civil Rights Movement: 1945-1968
- Head of the School of History, International Relations and Politics
- Member of College Management Board
- Member of the University Executive Board
- Member of Senate
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