The Citizens Councils

Excerpts from: George Thayer, The Father Shores of Politics: The American Political Fringe Today (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967) pp. 107-123

Some people call the Citizens' Councils the White Citizens' Councils; others call them "the white power structure. Hodding Carter calls them "the uptown Klan." But by whatever name they are known, there is no doubt that the Citizens' Councils of America are blood kin to the Ku Klux Klan. To be sure, the Councils and the Klan are not on speaking terms, but the aims are the same: the maintenance of segregation and the preservation of "the Southern way of Life." The Councils appeal to the better educated, more sophisticated Southern segregationist because their tactics are more subtle, more clever than Klan activities. There are no cross-burnings, demonstrations, or cornfield harangues to interest the uneducated, "wool hat" or "redneck" racist. If the mark of a Klansman is cracking skulls, then the mark of a member of the Citizens' Councils is twisting arms.

The Councils, as did the Klan, blossomed into full flower as a direct result of the Supreme Court's 17 May 1954 ruling on Brown vs. the Board of Education, the Court held that "separate but equal" school systems were outside the pale of constitutionality.

Within two months of "The Decision," as it came to be known in the South, the first Council was organized in Indianola, Mississippi. It was the first of hundreds of Citizens' Councils to spring up throughout Dixie during the next twelve months.

In November 1954, the Citizens' Council published a pamphlet in which it described its own place in the political scheme of things. Part of the five-page document declared:

The Citizens' Council is the South's answer to the mongrelizers. We will not be integrated! We are proud of our white blood and our white heritage of six centuries . . . .If we are bigoted, prejudiced, un-American etc., so were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and other illustrious forebears who believed in segregation. We choose the old paths of our founding fathers and refuse to appease anyone, even the internationalists.

Hard-core members in a local Council varied in number from ten or so to two dozen; nearly all of them represented the more prosperous segments of the community: businessmen, lawyers, planters, political officials. The structure of each Council was uncomplicated and flexible, free of Klan jargon and fancy titles. Usually four committees were set up, each one a reflection of major Council concerns: an information and education committee to educate both whites and Negroes on the advantages of segregation and the dangers of integration; a membership and finance committee to create a well-financed white bloc vote; a legal committee to anticipate the moves of the opposition, to carry out countermoves and to recommend the application of "economic pressure to troublemakers" (this reference to economic pressure was later dropped from official CC literature); and a political committee to discourage, among other things, Negro voting.

Council strategy sessions, often held during lunchtime at a downtown club, were brief affairs. The members would meet, argue, plan, agree, then disperse to meet once again briefly at some future specified time and place. In its early days the Councils were most elusive: there were no central offices, no signs on doors, no calling cards, no letterheads, no literature. It was a crusade at its most efficient stage, with a maximum of zeal and a minimum of overhead.

By 1956, the idea of Citizens' Councils as a buffer against federal incursions into the South had become so accepted by Dixie segregationists that a more formal organization was established to coordinate the activities of the many independent groups. This new organization was called the Citizens' Councils of America and came into being at a spring convention in New Orleans at which delegates representing Citizens' Councils from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia were present (The Oklahoma Councils had been unable to send a delegation but gave its proxy to the Texas group.)

Its headquarters were first located in Greenwood, Mississippi, but later moved to the state capital, Jackson. Robert B. Patteron, the founder of the Indianola Council, was appointed executive secretary.

The purposes of the new group remained essentially unaltered from those of the many independent Citizens' Councils: it sought "the preservation of the reserved natural rights of the people of the states, including primarily the separation of the races in our schools and all institutions involving personal and social relations; and . . . the maintenance of our States' Rights to regulate public health, morals, marriage, education, peace and good order in the States, under the Constitution of the United States."

Tactically, the Citizens' Councils of America sought to have all its member organizations actively encourage the whites to organize and protest and to fight to preserve the separate schools; it encouraged the local groups to intervene forcefully where necessary to guard against federal incursions into the South; and it suggested that a concerted effort be made on a national level to promote "the cause of constitutional government and freedom of personal association." One of the primary objectives of the Councils was also to provide a sharp counterattack against the NAACP.

From their inception the Councils have been led or inspired by some of the South's most prominent segregationists. Taking them in the order that they appeared on the scene, the ideologue and godfather of the whole movement is a man virtually unknown outside the South. His name is Tom P. Brady, a state supreme court justice of Mississippi who lives in Brookhaven, a small, sleepy town of eight thousand located fifty-five miles south of Jackson, the capital. Judge Brady (pronounced Braddie, as it used to be spelled) is a trim, dapper man in his early sixties with a silvery mane, a gray mustache, and courtly manners. He is a native Mississippian, a graduate of Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, Yale, and the University of Mississippi Law School.

Brady published a book a few weeks after The Decision called Black Monday, a hastily produced little paperback full of typographical errors. It has become the bible of the Citizens' Councils. In his book, the author claims that the Supreme Court's action was a Communist plot and that it had "arrested and retarded the economic and political, yes, the social, status of the Negro in the South for at least one hundred years." That Monday in May, he went on, "ranks in importance with July 4, 1776, the date upon which our Declaration of Independence was signed. May 17, 1954, is the date upon which the declaration of socialist doctrine was proclaimed throughout this nation. . . ."

The judge called for an all-out war against The Decision. He suggested that all nine Supreme Court Justices plus the Attorney General be elected to office instead of nominated by the President; he called for the formation of a grass-roots organization to fight the verdict; he proposed a number of legal maneuvers to circumvent desegregation; he toyed with the idea of a "third political force" in the South to do battle with the liberals in both major parties; he felt that economic pressure should be applied against those favoring integration; and he proposed that Negroes be transshipped to some distant place.

Brady rekindles all the Southern fears of Negro sexuality. "Whenever and wherever the white man has drunk the cup of black hemlock, whenever and wherever his blood has been infused with the blood of the negro, the white man, his intellect and his culture have died." Intermarriage, he believes, will create a "hybrid yellow mulatto man," an outcast and a potential Communist. Negroes, writes the judge, are little better (or little worse, it is not clear) than the chimpanzee:

You can dress a chimpanzee, housebreak him, and teach him to use a knife and fork, but it will take countless generations of evolutionary development, if ever, before you can convince him that a caterpillar or a cockroach is not a delicacy. Likewise the social, political, economical, and religious preferences of the negro remain close to the caterpillar and the cockroach. This is not stated to ridicule or abuse the negro. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the caterpillar or the cockroach. It is merely a matter of taste. A cockroach or caterpillar remains proper food for a chimpanzee.

Brady produced some startling prophecies in Black Monday. His most famous one, and perhaps a reason why the book has become the Councils' bible, was fulfilled barely a year after publication date. In his book, Judge Brady wrote:

The fulminate which will discharge the blast will be the young negro schoolboy, or veteran who has no conception of, the difference between a mark and a fathom. The supercilious glib young negro, who has sojourned in Chicago or New York, and. who considers the councils of his elders archaic, will perform an obscene act, or make an obscene remark, or a vile overture or assault upon some white girl.

In the first week of August 1955, the battered body of Emmett Till, a Negro teen-age schoolboy from Chicago, was fished out of the Mississippi River. Till died because he allegedly "wolf whistled" or leered at a young, attractive white girl in a little town called Money (population 100), just a few miles north of Greenwood, the home of the Citizens' Councils at the time. Two defendants, one the husband of the girl, were acquitted of any complicity in the crime. The Councils denied any involvement. To this day the killing has gone unpunished.

One person who was deeply moved and inspired by Brady's book was Robert Patterson --"Tut" to his friends -- a farmer from the Delta town of Itta Bena. Red-haired, blue-eyed, hard-working, in his mid-forties, Patterson was a star end and captain of the 1942 Mississippi State football team; after graduation he served as a paratroop officer, fighting with distinction in the Battle of the Bulge. Several years after the war he returned to Sunflower County in the Delta -- also the home county of Senator James Eastland- to run a plantation.

Three years later The Decision was handed down and Patterson's life changed considerably. He and some friends had set up the first Citizens' Councils in Indianola by the middle of July 1954. For the rest of the year Patterson stumped the state, quietly pushing his and Brady's message, organizing branches and seeking new members at five dollars per person. Since then his evangelistic endeavors have expanded to encompass the entire South. Today he is secretary of the Citizens' Councils of America, based in Jackson, and executive secretary of the Association of Citizens' Councils of Mississippi, located in Greenwood just a few miles from Itta Bena.

One of the first things Patterson did after the May 17 decision was to mail out a form letter to CC members enclosing a suggested reading list. Most of the publications were anti-Negro in content, although a few were anti-Semitic. Frank Britton's The American Nationalist, Gerald L. K. Smith's Cross and the Flag, Conde McGinley's Common Sense, and John Hamilton's The White Sentinel were a few of the suggested titles.

The ADL noted in 1956 that Patterson had previously written for a number of anti-Semitic publications, including James Madole's National Renaissance Bulletin. Patterson, however, denies that be is anti-Semitic; he once told representatives of B'nai B'rith that if their ADL branded him an anti-Semite, he would not deny it. Obviously pleased at out bluffing them, he said, "That was the last I heard from 'em."

Although anti-Semitic viewpoints can be detected on the fringes of the movement, the body of the Citizens' Councils seems free of any distinct Jewish bias. Members are content to train their fire at Negroes, integrationists, liberals and Communists, all of whom are considered by Southern segregationists to be one and the same thing.

Patterson's views vary only marginally from Brady's. He believes without question in the inherent inferiority of the Negroes; he does not envision the day when Mississippi will be desegregated; he half-jokingly accepts the Black Muslim idea that a few states should be set aside for Negroes, suggesting with obvious relish New York, Michigan, Illinois and California; he sees integration as Communist-inspired; the white South must unite against outside interference; whites, he adds, must vote as a bloc; and intermarriage, he avers, will destroy Western civilization.

One of the best known Southern segregationists is Roy V. Harris, the chairman of the Citizens' Councils of America. Harris is a graduate of the University of Georgia, Class of 1917, and currently is a member of the Georgia Board of Regents, the body that governs school policy in the state. For twenty-two years he was a representative in the Georgia Legislature, eight of which were served as speaker. For two years he was a state senator. Today he lives in Augusta, a senior partner in the law firm of Harris, Chance, McCracken & Harrison.

He is a short man, in his early seventies, on the rotund side, with thinning hair, rimless glasses and a cigar that seems permanently welded to the comer of his mouth. He is gregarious, confidence-inspiring and has a short staccato laugh that is almost a giggle. Like many heavy men he is exceedingly nimble and quick on his feet; this applies to his political activities and viewpoints as well.

He said that back in 1954 he realized the South would have a year of grace before the federal government began enforcing the law. He took the opportunity to brush up on the history of Reconstruction. "It dawned on me," he said, "that it took twelve years to get the bayonets out of our backs and fifteen to twenty years to bring about harmony. I started to preach that we couldn't win this fight in under twenty years. We had to overcome this brain-washing that segregation is unchristian.

"So we advocated resisting in every way we could, to keep it off as long as possible; and when it came to going to jail we'd do"- here he drew the words out- "just enough to keep out of jail."

He said he did not think that the South would ever convince the North on the value of segregation, but, he said, "we had to hold the line until they came around to our way of thinking. We had to wait until they got enough ingress up there - until they got a bellyful of the proposition."

Part of the problem, says Harris, is that the North thinks they are integrated when in fact they have de facto segregation. As long as they think that, said the peppery lawyer, the courts concentrate their attacks on the South.

"If the Supreme Court had held that every school had to mix �em all over the country," he said, "hell, there would have been a revolution throughout the entire country and our fight would have been won."

He added with a mischievous smile, "We aren't mean enough to force it on anyone, but we thought it would help our case."

Most people, he said with an exaggerated cadence to his Southern drawl, "don't know the ingress; they don't deal with 'em. Now you get some of these lawyers who deal with 'em, they'll tell you about 'em."

Harris takes the common Southern stance that civil rights legislation is unconstitutional, that it is contrary to the spirit of states' rights, and that it is one more instance of fuzzy liberal thinking in Washington. "Boys . . . " he said, obviously orating to an imaginary white audience, "if you're going to be raped, make damn sure it's rape; you don't have to cooperates

He feels that over the years the Citizens' Councils have been a lot luckier than they originally thought they would be. "We have not been responsible for any violence," he stated, noting as well that every Citizens' Council conference charges twenty-five dollars as a registration fee to keep the "crackpots" out. "The Klan, anti-fluorides and anti-Jews would ruin the meeting," he said.

The size of the Citizens' Councils has always been a subject of speculation. Current estimates put the membership near the 300,000 mark, with 80,000 in Mississippi alone. Many observers dispute these figures. Harris, for one, says that Councils grow and die over a short span of time. "When Martin Luther King comes to Georgia," he said, "there are Citizens' Councils all over the place; when he's not around you can't even get a meeting." Yet, he added quickly, "there are some very small, dedicated groups such as here in Augusta." Transplanted Yankees, Harris claims, form the back-bone of many a Council. "Damn," he said, "after they've been down here awhile they becomes worsen we are."

Politicians, he continued, "are scared to hell of the nigger bloc vote; we've got to take a page from the nigger book and vote together."

Harris spearheaded the Goldwater campaign in Georgia, feeling that the ex-Senator was the first person for whom a Southerner could cast a protest vote. But, he said, "it's difficult for any hard- boiled Southerner to vote the Republican ticket; to get the movement going we had to organize 'Democrats for Goldwater.�" Harris claims credit for Mississippi going for the Republican nominee.

Harris publishes one of the more flamboyant newspapers -in America, called The Augusta Courier. He started it in 1946 and claims a current national weekly readership of 10,000. It is delivered to his readers in an ordinary brown, grease-resistant paper bag. The headlines of the four-page paper are usually printed in flaming red and predict one catastrophe after another. "DEFEAT BY INTERNATIONAL COMMUNISM IS PREDICTED FOR THE UNITED STATES," reads one. At the bottom of the front page he asks, again in red type: "ARE YOU GOING TO SURRENDER TO THE LEFT-WINGERS?" Most of the articles are concerned with Negro "inferiority," the "impossibility" of integration and the "benefits" of segregation. Under his own byline in a column called "Strictly Personal," Harris dwells virtually on no other themes.

Occasionally he attacks his enemies, one of his favorites being Ralph McGill, the publisher of the Atlanta Constitution. "McGILL'S RACE MIXING PHILOSOPHY WON SWEEPING VICTORY SEPTEMBER 12," reads one red headline. McGill thought this so amusing that he had a copy of the edition framed and hung on his office wall, along with his many awards, trophies and mementos.

Harris is most anxious to spread the news of his Courier as widely as possible. "You have the authority," he told me, "to reproduce any part or all of them at any time you want."

With a vigorous handshake, a short cackle of a laugh, a pat on the back, - And a few jocular references about how much fun it is outwitting the North, he eventually ushered me out of his office, wishing me well. Before I had left the anteroom he already bad a client firmly gripped by the hand and, with his ubiquitous cigar still welded in place, was assuaging the man's legal fears.

Another cog in the Citizens' Councils wheel is William J. Simmons, the editor of The Citizen, the Council's official publication. Tall, well over six feet, he is distinguished by a Kitchener mustache and a rather soft appearance. He is the son of a fairly wealthy retired Jackson banker and a graduate of Mississippi College in Clinton. During World War II he served as a civilian with the Royal Engineers of the British Army and later briefly in the U.S. Navy. He says that his views on race hardened while he was in Jamaica, claiming that a caste system had sprung up there among Negroes of various shades creating, he says, endless problems.

The Citizen claims a circulation of 34,000, perhaps a realistic indication of hard-core Council strength throughout the nation. Articles in it are by a wide variety of people, such as ex-Governor George Wallace of Alabama, General Edwin A. Walker, ex- Governor Ross R. Barnett of Mississippi, Robert C. Ruark, James J. Kilpatrick, editor of the Richmond (Virginia) News-Leader and author of The Southern Case for School Segregation, and Medford Evans, a contributing editor of the Birch Society's American Opinion.

Simmons himself writes a number of articles and most of the editorials. One recent issue was devoted entirely to "How to Start a Private School," reflecting one of the Citizens' Councils' major objectives at the moment. Virtually all the articles in The Citizen are devoted to the segregation-integration controversy. The 114 pieces of Citizens' Council literature listed in the back of nearly every issue of The Citizen range in outlook from a pamphlet called "Why Segregation Is Right," by Simmons, to "Zoological Subspecies of Man," by Dr. E. Raymond Hall. If one were to buy one piece of all the literature listed in the back (this would include such items as a "NEVER!' button and a miniature Confederate battle flag), it would cost the zealot $186.20, giving some idea of the volume of propaganda that must flow out of the Jackson headquarters.

Simmons is perhaps the Councils' most indefatigable speaker and as such reflects much of the members' attitudes. He believes, for instance, that a three-pronged attack is being mounted by American "egalitarian socialists" against constitutional freedoms. It began, he said, with our attempt to reach an agreement with Soviet Russia, giving our recognition of the country and the Test Ban Treaty as two examples. He said that there is also under way an attack on business, in which a double standard is created -- "one set of rules restricting and hamstringing business while another set bestowed power and unlimited monopoly upon socialist labor leaders like Walter Reuther, who is a Vice President of the NAACP." The third attack has been an attack on the white race: "Under the idealistically glowing phrases of 'brotherhood' and 'tolerance' all races were to be submerged in a sea of egalitarianism through integration. And all were to be ruled by a liberal 'Elite' in a planned society."

He claims that two slogans have been used -- or, rather, "misused"-- to further this three-way attack. One is peace, "that is, peace on terms satisfactory to the Kremlin." It has led, he said, "to such outlandish situations as the military invasion of my own home state by 30,000 troops to put one negro in Ole Miss solely because of the color of his skin while Russia built its strength in Cuba with absolute impunity, under an umbrella held by the Kennedy-Johnson Administration." The other slogan is civil rights. "Most people think only of race when they bear the term 'civil rights,' " he said. "Many are persuaded through some kind of blind emotional, collective guilt, which the liberals have worked very hard to establish, that whatever the negro complains he lacks is what he should have, regardless of the consequences."

This attack on segregation, he continued, stems from the current situation in which "the white liberals hold the balance of power through the leverage of the negro bloc vote." To hold this vote, says Simmons, "the liberals promise more and more special privileges for the negro in the form of 'civil rights' bills, which not only would give them social and political preference, but economic as well."

Simmons derides the Northerner as a hypocrite, pointing out that Harlem is the "largest segregated Negro community in the world." Despite years of "integration," propaganda, brotherhood and tolerance, "the result . . . is that a white man or woman will not - I repeat -will not live in Harlem." The composition of an average American city, Simmons stated, finds a white business core in the middle, surrounded by a ring of Negro slums, which in turn is surrounded by white suburbs. "Liberals," he said, "may invariably be found inhabiting these suburbs."

There are a number of other luminaries who are associated with the Citizens' Councils of America. One is Leander Perez, Sr., the political boss of Plaquemine (pronounced Plackman) and St. Bernard parishes in Louisiana. He was one of the founders of the CC of A. Perez, known by everyone as "Judge," is a man of intimidating mien. In his seventies, with wavy gray hair offset by bushy black eyebrows, with hooded eyes that miss nothing, and rimless glasses, he is capable of volcanic wrath, scorn and anger. He is a rich and powerful man not only in his two swampy parishes south of New Orleans but in the city itself and throughout the state. He has a prosperous law practice, he is a cattleman, a leader in the establishment of private schools, an assistant district attorney (for thirty-six years he was district attorney for his two parishes but in 1960 turned the job over to a son, Leander, Jr., who promptly appointed his father his assistant), a statewide political string-puller, a wealthy oilman, a favorite hero of the NSRP, and a tireless speaker in the cause of segregation. In 1962, he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church because of his persistent attacks on Archbishop Joseph Rummel's decision to desegregate the New Orleans parochial schools.

Perez is t hard-line anti-Negro segregationist. He expresses a minimum of Southern paternalistic feelings. When he gets worked up he is likely to call Negroes "Congolese" or "burr heads." He explained to a Senate bearing in 1965 that few Negroes registered in his parishes because they were "a low type of citizen" with little interest in politics. He admitted that he did not "go out and beat the bushes for Negroes" adding that a Negro registration of: 3.3 percent (96 out of 2,897 eligible) in Plaquemine Parish was all that reasonably could be expected. He considers all civil rights activities as part of a "Black Belt Communist conspiracy" which will bring the Negro to power in the South; once in power, he said, they will declare their independence of the Union and set up their own all-black nation.

Richard Morphew runs the Citizens' Councils forum, the major propaganda effort of the organization. It produces and distributes radio and TV programs to approximately 450 stations per week, which means that over 23,000 CC programs go out over the air each year.

Morphew, whose office is down the hall from Simmons', his boss, is one who would like to see the Negro returned to Africa. He objects to being labeled a racist because he thinks it is a scare word. "If you realize there are differences between the sexes," he told me, "then you are a sexist." He believes that the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, started by SNCC workers, "exists solely to fulfill a need of the New York papers." It operates, he concluded, "out of someone's hat."

He has a number of complaints that stem from his background and experience as a radio and TV newscaster. "Police dogs," he said, "never snarl north of the Mason-Dixon Line; and white segregationists always seem to have bad grammar but integrationists never have." He also objects to the term "White Citizens' Councils" so often used by the press. "Why not Black NAACP?" lie asks.

Perhaps the one point that distinguishes the Citizens' Councils from the Klan is tactics. While the Klan depends on physical violence, the Councils call on their powers of economic, political and social pressure to keep the white community in line and the black one "where it belongs." The Councils today reject the notion that they use any pressure whatsoever in the furtherance of their aims, even though in their earliest brochures they were calling for the "application of economic pressure to troublemakers." Councilmen will argue that they seek to achieve their aims only through the written and spoken word. However, there is considerable evidence to the contrary, indicating that a formidable amount of economic pressure of a most basic sort has been applied by Councils to those individuals and groups who have strayed from the path of segregation. ...

Another target of Citizens' Council ire was and continues to be P. D. East, the young publisher of the Petal Paper at Petal Mississippi. East has been a persistent critic of the Councils and many of their attitudes. When economic pressure was brought to bear upon his enterprise.

Another target of Citizens' Council ire was and continues to be P. D. East, the young publisher of the Petal Paper at Petal Mississippi. East has been a persistent critic of the Councils and many of their attitudes. When economic pressure was brought to bear upon his enterprise, he ran a large headline in his column taunting his adversaries. "GO TO HELL IN A BUCKET!" it read. His local circulation and advertising have dried up, but he has survived and fared better than Hazel Brannon Smith because he maintains a fairly sizable national circulation.

East's most famous work was a full-page ad in a 1958 edition of the Petal Paper in which he mockingly described the advantages of joining the Citizens' Councils. The ad pictured a braying jackass in one corner and began: "Yes, YOU too, can be SUPERIOR. Join The Glorious Citizens Clans . . . !" The ad went on to list various "freedoms" that would accrue to members: ". . . Freedom to yell 'Nigger' as much as you please without your conscience bothering you! Freedom to wonder who is pocketing the five dollars you pay to join! Freedom to take a profitable part in the South's fastest growing business: Bigotry! FREEDOM TO BE SUPERIOR WITHOUT BRAIN, CHARACTER, OR PRINCIPLE!" It ended with: "This Wonderful Offer Open to White Folk Only..."

Although the Citizens' Councils of America have not been directly involved in any violence, there is no doubt that such activities as these have added measurably to the climate of bitterness and hatred in the South.

There is considerable agreement among impartial observers that the Citizens' Councils are in decline. They will be around perhaps for a generation or so, but their passing is assured. They are faced, first, with a rising Negro registration to which Southern politicians will have to cater. Second, the once solid South is fragmenting into many autonomous groups, not all of which have turned their eyes from the future. But it will be violence that will destroy the Councils. Eventually they will have to choose between respectability and violence. This is not a problem so long as the Councils are a force; but once the members feel that the reins of power are slipping from their grasp, the "uptown Klan" will be forced by temperament and circumstance to relocate itself in a less savory section of town.

Ferri State FLITE Library Catalog #JK2261 .T47 1967

Back to CCA homepage