Controversial Group Has Strong Ties to
Both Parties in South
By Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 13, 1999; Page A02
The Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization
built by supporters of the segregationist White Citizens Councils,
the John Birch Society and activists in the presidential campaigns
of then-Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace, has developed strong political
ties to the Republican Party in the South as well as to the fading
conservative wing of the southern Democratic Party.
The group's strong ties to the remnants of the
now-defunct White Citizens Councils, a powerful force in Mississippi
and other Deep South states in the 1950s and 1960s, gave it an
organizational base as well as connections to small-town establishments,
such as Rotary clubs. The group soon became part of the political
culture and both parties.
Its ties to the Democratic Party are strongest
in Mississippi. William D. Lord, the group's senior field coordinator,
said 34 Mississippi legislators, most of them Democrats, are members
of the Council of Conservative Citizens. But most of the southern
politicians associated with it are Republicans, including members
in state legislatures and in prominent state party positions.
Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice (R)
have been featured speakers. Fordice even enlisted the group's
support for his legislative agenda.
But it is two other southern politicians
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Rep. Robert L.
Barr (R-Ga.) who have brought the group its recent notoriety.
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz has attacked Barr, a member
of the House Judiciary Committee, for speaking before the organization,
which Dershowitz characterized as racist. Lott also has faced
criticism and, like Barr, has tried to distance himself from the
group. Yet there is evidence that Lott's ties to the group are
far stronger than he has acknowledged.
During its 10 years of existence, the council
has maintained sustained relations with Lott. Photos of Lott at
the group's gatherings in Mississippi and of Lott meeting in Washington
with its officials have appeared periodically in the Citizens
Informer, the organization's quarterly publication. The Informer
regularly publishes a column Lott writes and distributes from
his Senate office.
One of its earliest publications, the spring
1989 Citizens Informer, pictures Lott as he "talks with relatives,
from left, his Uncle Arnie Watson; cousins, Frances and Frank
Hodges, and aunt, Eurdise. Arnie Watson, a former State Senator,
is a member of the Carroll County Citizens Council's Executive
Committee, and Frank Hodges is a member of the Carroll County
The summer 1997 issue of the Citizens Informer
has a picture of Lott meeting "privately at his office with CofCC
national officers": Lord, President Thomas Dover and CEO Gordon
In addition, Lord, a former regional director
of the anti-integration Citizens Council, has twice served as
chairman of the Lott Senate campaign in Carroll County.
Lott declined to be interviewed, but a spokesman
issued the following statement in response to questions about
Lott's relationship to the Council of Conservative Citizens: "Senator
Lott has made his distance from the point of view of this group
clear and isn't going to comment further."
In earlier statements, Lott's spokesman avoided
making a flat denial of claims by some council officials that
he has been a member. "He does not consider himself a member of
this group and he has no firsthand knowledge of the group's views,"
the spokesman said.
Dover, the council president, said Lott "certainly
has his right to affirm or deny his membership. . . . If he said
no, I'll honor that for him. . . . I'm not going to say one way
or the other. If he wants to deny it, that is up to him."
Council officials contend the organization is
a mainstream conservative group advocating such policies as an
end to racial quotas and forced busing, estoring states' rights
under the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, tough immigration
controls and protection of such symbols of southern heritage as
Confederate monuments and public displays of the Confederate flag.
In fact, the Council of Conservative Citizens
promotes the views of its leaders and prominent members
a number of whom are strong believers in the preservation of the
"white race," disagree with Supreme Court rulings ordering desegregation
of public facilities and believe the United States is on the verge
of losing its identity as a white, European nation. The White
Citizens Councils were instrumental in forming private white "academies"
as alternatives to the integrated school systems.
Baum, the organization's chief executive officer,
said: "We are going to be a majority nonwhite nation in a couple
of years. It that a legitimate concern? Yes, it is. We won't back
away from that."
Politicians who have been associated with the
Council of Conservative Citizens offer different explanations
of their relationships with it.
Robbie Wilbur, a spokesman for Fordice, said
the Mississippi governor's "contact has been mostly on common
issues: voter fraud, government reform, smaller and effective
government. . . . We've had some common issues." Wilbur said that
if the group "did position themselves in some discriminatory type
positions, we would not be supportive on that."
In South Carolina, Republican National Committeeman
Buddy Witherspoon is a member of the group. It was at his invitation
that Barr addressed a national council meeting in Charleston last
Witherspoon said: "I'm a member. I'm not that
active, I don't go to all the things." He described the organization
as a regular conservative advocacy group. "They have always been
people I have had no problem with," he said. "Everything to me
is fine from what I see and hear."
In Tennessee, Claire Bawcom, a vice president
of the Tennessee Federation of Republican Women, writes a regular
column for the Citizens Informer, and she is a regular speaker
at the group's meetings.
Bawcom said her work with the organization has
allowed her to promote her views "about the social issues," especially
education. Asked about some of the racial views of the group's
leaders, she said, "I don't get into anything of that nature at
all. . . . I just don't pay attention but to what I'm interested
At Bawcom's urgings, former Tennessee GOP chairman
Tommy Hopper and former Tennessee national committeewoman Alice
W. Algood have addressed council meetings.
And in Alabama, Republican National Committeewoman
Betty Fine Collins has spoken to the group and received a special
council award, as has former Alabama governor Guy Hunt (R). Former
Alabama GOP chairman J. Elbert Peters has spoken to the group
at least once.
Jerry Creech, who recently resigned as chairman
of the South Carolina council, said: "We [whites] are the minority
now. . . . I think the white European built this country. Why
do we have to make over into a Third World country?"
Algood spoke at a 1993 council meeting near Nashville.
"The people who were in the group espoused pretty conservative
principles, among those principles being it is not fair that I
be taxed for someone else's mistakes," Algood said.
Algood said she has been "amazed" to see the
council called "a racist outfit. . . . I'm not really aware of
any particular tone or direction that has come out of that group
of people that is racist."
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company
Correction issued by
Washington Post, Jan. 21, 1999, p. A3: "(the above) Jan. 13 article
incorrectly reported that Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) had spoken
to a meeting of the Council of Conservative Citizens."