On July 11, 1954, the White Citizens Council, with Robert Patterson
of Indianola as leader, was formed. Primarily made up of plantation owners,
bankers, doctors, lawyers, legislators, preachers, teachers, and merchants,
this organization sought to prevent the implementation of the Brown
decision. Unlike the Ku Klux Klan, this organization "publicly" renounced
the use of violence. Nevertheless, its actions often encouraged white violence
against blacks. While there were occasions when members of the group employed
violence, the Council's real success lay in its ability to levy economic
reprisals on those who supported and actively pushed for desegregation.
Indeed, the WCC was so successful that it was more than ten years after
the Brown decision before any significant desegregation occurred
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Total time: 54 seconds
They had 90,000 members in the state of Mississippi, and didn't
do a durn thing. I joined the Citizens' Council the very first year, but
I didn't join after that. But what was so funny was that they'd have this
meeting at the courthouse. Big speaker get up and say, "We're not going
to let the federal government do so-and-so. We are not going to do so-and-so.
Come on. Bring your money up here. Let's join. Give us your money." So
people would give their money and leave there, and they would feel better,
like an emotional purgative, even though no plan had been adopted; no course
had been assumed. The situation was the same, but they felt better. It
was just kind of like clutching, "Oh, man, we've got a Citizens' Council
now, and they're going to help us." Like we've got a Sovereignty Commission,
and they're going to help us, too. You know.
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button to hear the following excerpt.
Total time: 1 minute, 15 seconds
I'll be honest with you. I joined the Citizens Council when
it first originated and came to Forest, but right quick I got leery of
it. It looked to me [that] they were going down the wrong path; they were
trying to create discord. They were pointing fingers at whites. In other
words, if you just walked across the street with a black man—I think they
said, "Negro" in those days—why, you were ready for the stake. You were
a heretic, you know, [and they'd] carry you off. It was even a case of
judgment by association. It might have been pure coincidence [that] you
crossed the street at the same time. It looked like to me that the Citizens
Council was just stirring up hate among whites and really was accomplishing
nothing except just building an organization of members paying dues.
They would clap their hands, and they would collect dues. But when everybody
left the courthouse, they felt better because they had experienced an emotional
purgative, you know; they had thrown up something that was offensive, and
they felt better, even though they hadn't done a thing. I'm beginning to
feel it was rather disgusting because all it was doing was just using emotions
to raise money.
-- Erle Johnston
(Erle Johnston is a former director (1963-1968) of the Mississippi
State Sovereignty Commission. Prior to accepting this position, Johnston
worked as the Sovereignty Commission's public relations director (1960-1963).
In this role, he coordinated a speakers bureau that had the goal of "telling
the real truth" about Mississippi and its race relations.)