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Reconstituting Whiteness
The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission

Author(s): Jenny Irons

In Reconstituting Whiteness, sociologist Jenny Irons explores the tactics and legacy of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, an agency of the state that existed from 1956 to 1977 and was devoted exclusively to defending and supporting the institution of segregation. Using a myriad of surveillance and public relations efforts, the commission was unique in its expanse and resistance during a time of change.
Going far beyond a mere institutional history, however, Irons uses the commission as a tool to explore the intersection of state-organized defense of white supremacy and the dramatically shifting racial constructs of the civil rights era. Ultimately, the commission failed to protect segregation, but as a state entity, it adapted racism in new terms.
Reconstituting Whiteness is an insightful study of the methods Mississippi state government used to move the goal posts of what was considered "decent" and "acceptable" white supremacy and racism, as it raced against time to define whiteness while the boundaries of segregation fell all around it.

Biography of Author(s)

Jenny Irons is Associate Professor of Sociology at Hamilton College.


  • "This text should be read by anyone who studies race, social inequality, social movements, and organizations and is suitable for graduate-level courses."
    --American Journal of Sociology
  • "In her study of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, Jenny Irons shows us how adaptable racism is. This book reveals how present-day racial regimes have not only survived their supposed downfall in the civil rights era, but in many ways have been perversely strengthened by civil rights reforms. Irons also explains how even the MSSC, which was tied to murder and torture in numerous ways, could in its latter days reinvent itself as a "moderate" and "responsible" entity seeking limited racial reform. There are some big lessons here for advocates of more thoroughgoing racial justice: lessons not only about the resilience of the U.S. racial regime, but also about the daunting tasks of opposing it, tasks that black Mississippians pioneered. Reconstituting Whiteness is particularly valuable today. Highly recommended!"
    --Howard Winant, University of California, Santa Barbara, author of The World Is a Ghetto: Race and Democracy since World War II
  • "Still, her book is an excellent entree into the field of race and whiteness studies. Without understanding what the movement and activists were up against, one canont fully appreciate all that was achieved and all that was left undone."
    --Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
  • "Because Irons's analysis highlights human agency and shows how actors' tactics were shaped by the relational context in which they were embedded, she illuminates processes underlying a transition from overt racism in the United States to a more contemporary form of so-called color-blind racism."
    --The Journal of Southern History
  • "...a thorough, compelling analysis of the state-run and publicly funded MIssissippi State Sovereignty Commission (MSCC)..Recommended"
  • "Irons'study of the MSSC helps us to understand why the eradication of racism continues to be such a formidable task."