The White Citizens’ Council

        The White Citizens’ Council was for a time the largest and most influential white supremacist organization in Mississippi, deeply involved in seemingly all aspects of state and local affairs.   The organization, which originated in the small Mississippi Delta town of Indianola, had been active in the state for nearly ten years before the KKK’s resurgence in 1963. Fourteen white Mississippians attended the initial meeting with the goal of forming a group in response to the (LINK) National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) (LINK) which they believed was spreading a Communist agenda. Whites were fearful of the potential impact that the (LINK) Brown v. Board (1954) (LINK) decision would have on their long celebrated southern way of life so they sought to maintain segregation at all costs. The Council imposed economic sanctions, rather than the violent tactics used by the Klan, on anyone who actively pushed for integration and racial justice. African Americans were considered to be a greater threat to white supremacy in communities where they were a well represented segment of the population, and when there was significant mobilization around the civil rights struggle, and correspondingly Citizens’ Council membership tended to be highest in those environments.

       Comprised of businessmen, professionals, and governmental officials, the Councils publicly renounced violence and maintained that its ultimate goal of resisting integration could be achieved through “legal” means. Although both Klan and Citizens’ Council members both rejected any attempt at integration, members of the Citizens’ Council associated the Klan and reactive organizations like it with lower class violence and social disorder. The Citizens’ Council, in contrast, trumpeted that they were made up of “reliable,” white male citizens, who organized for the purpose of maintaining white racial integrity. They exerted a great deal of influence in economic, social and political spheres across the state, using subtle but sophisticated tactics of economic intimidation and pressure to scare civil rights activists into submission. The Council would pay local newspapers to publicly list the names of persons who signed petitions for Civil Rights initiatives, such as desegregated schools. They punished people who supported integration by firing workers, and denying mortgages and loans to farmers and activists.

  The Council spread its anti integration message through mass mailings and speeches in an effort to galvanize supporters and to recruit new members. In Jackson, the Citizen’s Council headquarters was down the street from City Hall and their office was across the street from the governor’s mansion. The Council targeted middle class white neighborhoods and carried out “Freedom of Choice” surveys in an attempt to gauge local opinion on the topic of segregation in schools and residential areas around the city. Given the racial climate at the time, such campaigns functioned as a means of recruiting new members since being neutral or in support of integration was not favorable to the Council’s efforts. In addition, the Council created pamphlets, distributed its own newspaper, (LINK) The Citizens’ Council (LINK), as well as a widely heard radio program and television broadcast, the Citizens’ Council Forum, which was paid for by state funds such as those provided by the (LINK) Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission (LINK).

Sources: Andrews, Kenneth. “Movement-Countermovement Dynamics and Emergence of New Institutions: The Case of ‘White Flight Schools’ in Mississippi.” Social Forces, March 2002, 80 (3):911-936 University of North Carolina Press. 2002. Crespino, Joseph. In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 2007. Dittmer, John. Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1995. Katagiri, Yasuhiro. The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission: Civil Rights and States Rights. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. 2001. McMillen, Neil R. The Citizens’ Council: Organized Resistance to the Second Reconstruction, 1954-1964. Urbana, IL:University of Illinois Press.1994