Nazis, Communists, Klansmen, and Others on the Fringe: Political Extremism in America

By John George; Laird Wilcox | Go to book overview

27 The Citizens' Councils of America and The Councilor

On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court issued its famous Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, which effectively outlawed racially "separate but equal" school systems. Predictably, this sparked a massive revolt among white segregationists, primarily in the Deep South, and led to the formation of a movement (to resist integration) known as the "Citizens' Councils." According to George Thayer in The Farther Shores of Politics:

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.

Hard-core members of a local Council varied in number from ten or so up 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. 1

They usually did not refer to themselves as "White Citizens Councils," but several unaffiliated groups bore that name. An attempt to discuss their ideology as a whole would be useless, since this varied to a significant extent from council to council. The common characteristic was, of course, opposition to racial integration--they usually labeled their position "segregationist."

Interestingly, it was the development of the Citizens' Councils that may have been partially responsible for the relative weakness of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s. Seymour Martin Lipsest and Earl Raab have explained:

The "respectable" southerners who resisted integration sought to emphasize that they were law-abiding. They stressed their differences with the more militant Klan. Their concern with respectability was almost obsessive. Their propaganda stressed that their leadership is drawn from among the "best people," that they include "the most prominent, well-educated and conservative businessmen in each community." 2

A similar characteristic of the councils appears in Francis M. Wilhoit The Politics of Massive Resistance:

Though the Councils have been linked with the Klan through such epithets as "whitecollar Klan," "uptown Klan," "button-down Klan," and "country club Klan," they

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