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Yerger recounts history of state GOP in new book

Wirt Yerger

Wirt A. Yerger, Jr. in 1956 defeated a motion to include segregation in the Mississippi Republican Party's initial platform as four groups battled for control of the party.

Yerger recounts that decade of development in what today can arguably be called the dominant party in Mississippi politics in his new book, "A Courageous Cause: A Personal Story of Modern Republicanism's Birth from 1956 to 1966 in Mississippi."

Co-authored with writer Joseph L. Maxwell III, Yerger informs and entertains the reader through a turbulent time in Mississippi history.

Yerger and Maxwell will be signing copies of the book at Lemuria Books in Jackson on Tuesday, Jan. 18 from 4:30 p.m. until 6 p.m.

The "Black and Tans" led by Perry Howard from Washington D.C., sought to deliver Mississippi's Republican delegates nationally in exchange for patronage appointments in the state.

The "Lily Whites" were led by former Nebraska Gov. George Sheldon.

The third group was "Democrats for Eisenhower" led by E.O. Spencer.

But the final organization was led by Yerger of Jackson and grew out of his Mississippi Young Republican organization.

That year Yerger ousted the Lily Whites and defeated the motion to include segregation in the Mississippi Republican Party's initial platform, took Mississippi's representation back from Washington's Howard, and launched a 10-year stint as the founding Chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party.

He recounts the establishment of the Republican Party and its work to create a two-party system in the state based on ideology and issues, its early candidates and their challenges, and its behind-the-scenes work to promote conservatism against the liberal national Republicans of the day led by Nelson Rockefeller, William Scranton and George Romney.

"A Courageous Cause" provides a documented first-hand account of a less examined movement occurring simultaneously to the civil rights movement in Mississippi. And while the attacks against the GOP leadership could not compare with what the civil rights leadership faced, they did still face ridicule, threats and hatred based on the same motivation: the Democrats at the time sought to continue white rule.

The book clearly explains that these early Republicans were not civil rights champions; that was not the cause of their work. But the power structure of the day did view Republicanism as threat to the segregationist policies of the Democratic Party.

Featured in the book is an example of a 1963 Democratic advertisement that stated, "The best defense for our way of life is unity of the white conservative majority under Mississippi Democratic leadership."

A Democratic campaign flyer that year proclaimed "Danger" that a "two-party system in Mississippi...would end our way of life" and encouraged voters "to stamp out Republicanism."

In 1964, Gov. Paul Johnson, Jr. proposed 22 laws to kill the state Republican Party. Yerger was attacked in the press and callers threatened him at home. In his preface to the book, Maxwell writes that the young Republican leaders faced attacks by "the same oppressive scoundrels - the old-line Mississippi Democrats - as did the state's civil right leaders."

Whether you are a Republican wanting to know the roots of the Mississippi GOP or intrigued by Mississippi history, this fresh look at a decade of change provides previously untold stories and insights through the experiences of Yerger, complimented with primary sources research by Maxwell.

It places the Mississippi Republican Party in context of the times and the competing philosophies of the era including a deep fear for the spread of communism, an increasingly intrusive federal government, and a slowly progressing Mississippi in the violent days of a civil rights revolution.

The 330-plus-page narrative - part biography and part historic text - is accompanied by a 131 page appendix featuring correspondence between Yerger and President's Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and other Republicans, including Pat Buchanan, Dick Cheney and Barry Goldwater.

The source citations make up the final 32 pages of the publication. In addition to Lemuria, the book is available for purchase online at www.ACourageousCause.com.


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