White Citizens' Council

From Sajun.org

The White Citizens' Council movement was a U.S. movement against racial desegregation. It began in the 1950s as a protest against federal court decisions which ordered racial desegregation, most notably Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

The movement was strongest in the Deep South, where it often had the support of the leading citizens of many communities, including business, civic and sometimes religious leaders. Unlike the Ku Klux Klan, the WCC met openly and was seen by many as being "reputable"; in most communities there was little or no stigma associated with being a member of the WCC. Also unlike the Klan, its tactics did not often involve direct confrontation with violence, or terrorism, but rather economic ones.

Blacks who were seen as being too supportive of desegregation, voting rights, or other perceived threats to white supremacy found themselves and their family members unemployed in many instances; whites who supported civil rights for blacks were not immune from finding this happening to them as well. Many have suggested that in fact there was a considerable overlap in membership between the WCC and the Klan, with the same members participating overtly in one, and covertly in the other, although there were certainly many WCC members who wanted nothing to do with the Klan. It has been called by some, "the Klan with a smiling face."

The movement grew as enforcement of racial desegregation became more intense, probably peaking in the early 1960s. By this time there was a sign at the city limits of many small Southern towns proclaiming "The White Citizens' Council of _____ Welcomes You".

As school desegregation increased, in some communities "council schools," sponsored by the WCC, were set up for white children. Derisively referred to by some as "segregation academies," some exist even today, although they have generally assumed other sponsorship and most have been forced to integrate, at least in theory, in order to maintain the tax-exempt status afforded to non-profit private schools, which is granted only to those which maintain a policy of racial and ethnic nondiscrimination.

As white Southerners began to accept desegregation as a permanent aspect of life, the influence of the WCCs began to wane. The attitude of most white Southerners changed as well. Also, the growing economic power of blacks left few white businessowners willing to be openly associated with a racist organization. A few such groups still exist, although they have changed their name to Conservative Citizens' Council or joined in with something of a successor organization, the Council of Conservative Citizens. U.S. Senator Trent Lott, among other mainstream conservative leaders, received some negative publicity in recent years for addressing one such group.