Lassiter, Matthew D. 1970-

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Lassiter, Matthew D. 1970-


Born July 3, 1970. Education: Furman University, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1992; University of Virginia, M.A., 1994, Ph.D., 1999.


Office—Department of History, 1029 Tisch Hall, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109. E-mail—[email protected].


University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, assistant professor, 2000-06, associate professor of history and director of graduate studies, 2006—, associate professor of urban and regional planning, 2007—. Visiting instructor and assistant professor of history, Bowdoin College, 1998-2000.


Southern History Dissertation Fellowship, University of Virginia, 1995-98; Faculty Fellowship Enhancement Award, Rackham School of Graduate Studies and Office of the Vice President for Research, University of Michigan, 2001; National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, 2001-02; William T. Ludolph, Jr., Junior Faculty Development Award, History Department, University of Michigan, 2003, 2005, 2006; Patricia Jane Barrett Faculty Research Award, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, University of Michigan, 2004; Golden Apple Award, University of Michigan, 2004; University Undergraduate Teaching Award, Rackham School of Graduate Studies, University of Michigan, 2004-05; Class of 1923 Memorial Teaching Award, University of Michigan, 2006; Lillian Smith Book Award, Southern Regional Council, 2007, for The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South.


(Editor, with Andrew B. Lewis) The Moderates' Dilemma: Massive Resistance to School Desegregation in Virginia, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 1998.

The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2006.

Contributor of articles and chapters to books, including The Democratic Experiment: New Directions in American Political History, edited by Julian E. Zelizer, Meg Jacobs, and William Novak, Princeton University Press, 2003; The Best American History Essays 2006, edited by Joyce Appleby, Palgrave, 2006; The New Suburban History, edited by Kevin M. Kruse and Thomas J. Sugrue, University of Chicago Press, 2006; Encyclopedia of American Urban History, edited by David Goldfield, Sage Publications, 2007; and Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s, edited by Bruce Schulman and Julian Zelizer, Harvard University Press, 2007. Contributor of articles and reviews to journals, including Southern Changes, Journal of Urban History, Reviews in American History, Michigan Law Review, Journal of Planning History, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Journal of Planning Education and Research, Political Science Quarterly, Journal of American History, and Journal of American Studies.


History professor Matthew D. Lassiter's monograph The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South deals with the aftermath of the civil rights period in the 1960s and 1970s and the rise of a new conservatism in the area. The concept for his research, he explained in a personal anecdote on the History News Network Web site, came about during a job interview at a college in the Deep South. "About three minutes in, I was laying out the claim that political realignment in the South could not be reduced to white backlash against the civil rights movement alone, that the economic rise of the Sunbelt combined with national trends of suburbanization also had played a central role," he stated, "when a member of the hiring committee cut me off. ‘You're wrong,’ he said. ‘I lived through all that, and I know how it happened, and you're wrong.’" Lassiter's stance may have cost him that job, but he later landed a prestigious teaching position at the University of Michigan, and he expanded his theories into the book that became The Silent Majority.

The political realignment to which Lassiter refers is the transformation of the solid South from a primarily Democratic stronghold (a position it had held since the end of the Reconstruction era in 1876) to a new, conservative Republican area in the course of the later 1960s and early 1970s. Most political commentators and historians made the case that the civil rights campaign was the deciding factor that moved the south from the blue-state (Democratic) column into the redstate (Republican) column. Lassiter, and a number of his colleagues, however, have begun to reexamine the evidence, and they suggest that economics played at least as great a role as race in the political sea change from Democratic to Republican. "Could it be that class or—to put it another way—economic self-interest drove the process of political transformation," asked Dan T. Carter in Dissent, "with white backlash playing a distinctly secondary role in the process? What if Southern suburbanites are just members of America's rising GOP middle class on the make with a bit of a drawl?"

Lassiter suggests that the "silent majority" that Richard Nixon identified during the 1968 presidential campaign—the mass of Americans who did not identify with the counterculture or the leftist agenda of the 1960s—were in fact more concerned with property and income than they were with race. "Lassiter explores the expectations and demands of the mostly white, middle-class southern suburban elites, and the arguments they used in struggles over school desegregation—arguments in which they defended themselves as middle-class workers, parents, consumers, and property-holders rather than explicitly as whites," wrote Craig A. Kaplowitz in H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online. "In this color-blind approach to race, Lassiter finds a national convergence that helps explain the success of a center-right political coalition at the turn of the twenty-first century." He added that the book presents "the common thread of suburbanization" as the best explanation for the rise of Republicanism in the South and throughout the United States." In fact, according to Nancy Maclean, writing for In These Times, the author's "portrait shows that blue-state readers ought not to feel smug: The mechanisms that local conservatives fashioned to protect white suburban privilege now work better in the North and West than in the South."

"Lassiter makes a major contribution to the literature by examining the importance of the suburb," declared Timothy K. Kinsella in the Historian. "He raises a key question concerning the responsibility of suburbanites to blacks trapped in the city. The author argues that these suburbanites retreated from their responsibility when it came to education integration." By using the rhetoric of the civil rights movement, middle-class Southern whites were able to claim that they were protecting freedom of choice while at the same time promoting a de facto segregation. "The moderate agenda had particular power in suburban Atlanta, where a grassroots movement advocating keeping the public schools open contested Georgia's Black Belt for control of educational policy," wrote Charles W. Eagles in the Political Science Quarterly. "Annexation of growing, prosperous white suburbs allowed the city to develop ‘racial stability through racial apartheid’ that left blacks in the segregated downtown area." "Interestingly, an interracial movement developed in Charlotte [North Carolina] that called for busing equalization between blue-collar and white-collar neighborhoods," Damon Freeman wrote in the Journal of Southern History, "which, Lassiter argues, dampened the resistance of some whites. These trends helped to create a ‘color-blind rhetoric’ that opened the door for some integration while openly rejecting calls for more radical change." Freeman concluded: "Impressively researched and well argued, The Silent Majority offers an important contribution to the fields of urban history, southern history, and … civil rights."



American Historical Review, February 1, 2000, Robert A. Margo, review of The Moderates' Dilemma: Massive Resistance to School Desegregation in Virginia, p. 249.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, May 1, 1999, J. Watras, review of The Moderates' Dilemma, p. 1668.

Dissent, summer, 2007, Dan T. Carter, "Is There Still a South? And Does It Matter?"

Historian, June 22, 2007, Timothy K. Kinsella, review of The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South, p. 340.

Journal of American History, June 1, 2000, James W. Ely, review of The Moderates' Dilemma, p. 301; December 1, 2006, Raymond A. Mohl, review of The Silent Majority, p. 951.

Journal of Negro History, June 22, 2000, Matthew Dalbey, review of The Moderates' Dilemma, p. 127.

Journal of Southern History, November 1, 2007, Damon Freeman, review of The Silent Majority, p. 949.

Political Science Quarterly, March 22, 2007, Charles W. Eagles, review of The Silent Majority, p. 147.

Reference & Research Book News, May 1, 1999, review of The Moderates' Dilemma, p. 149.

Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, March 22, 1999, Kara Miles Turner, review of The Moderates' Dilemma, p. 232.

Virginia Quarterly Review, June 22, 1999, review of The Moderates' Dilemma, p. 98.


Fresh Fiction, (August 16, 2008), review of The Silent Majority.

History News Network, (August 16, 2008), "Matthew D. Lassiter."

H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, (April 1, 2007), Craig A. Kaplowitz, review of The Silent Majority.

In These Times, (August 16, 2008), Nancy Maclean, review of The Silent Majority.

University of Michigan Web site, (August 16, 2008), author profile.