January 14, 1999
Lott, and Shadow of a Pro-White Group
By JOHN KIFNER
JACKSON, Miss. -- If, as Senate Majority Leader Trent
Lott has insisted for a month, he has "no first-hand knowledge"
of the views of the Council of Conservative Citizens, which calls
itself pro-white, it comes as news to a lot of people back home,
including his Uncle Arnie.
"Trent is an honorary member," said Arnie Watson,
a former state senator, tax assessor and currently a member of
the council's executive board.
"He's spoken at meetings," added Watson, whom
Lott once fondly recalled as his "favorite uncle" from the days
during Lott's youth when his grandfather and uncles gathered to
talk politics on the porch.
But after a month of questioning and scrutiny
about his relationship with the group, Lott issued a statement
Wednesday night, saying: "I have made my condemnation of the white
supremacist and racist view of this group, or any group, clear.
Any use of my name to publicize their view is not only unauthorized,
It would be difficult for any conservative politician
here -- Democrat or Republican -- to remain ignorant of the Council
of Conservative Citizens.
There are 34 members of the Mississippi Legislature
among its roughly 5,000 members in the state, said William Lord,
the state coordinator, and prominent politicians, including Gov.
Kirk Fordice, a fellow Republican, regularly speak at its meetings
and rallies, which are festooned with the Confederate flag.
The council embraces a range of conservative
causes, including opposition to unfettered immigration and busing
for school desegregation, and promotes "Southern cultural issues."
It held its semiannual national convention here in Jackson just
after the November elections, with Fordice as the keynote speaker.
The governor and the roughly 300 people present stood and sang
along as "Dixie" was performed, but found their seats during "My
Country, 'Tis of Thee." People at the meeting matter-of-factly
told The Jackson Clarion-Ledger that Lott was a member, and the
state's largest newspaper printed this without objection from
the senator's office.
But in mid-December, the council -- and its relationship
to Lott, who is shepherding the impeachment trial of President
Clinton -- became the object of a growing national controversy.
First, the Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz,
during testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on the impeachment
issue, took umbrage at a remark by Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., about
"real Americans," taking it as anti-Semitic. He then attacked
Barr for speaking at a national meeting of the council, which
he described as racist. Then The Washington Post reported that
Lott had also addressed the group. Both men issued statements
distancing themselves from the council. Lott said he was not a
Lott's initial statement said he did not consider
himself a member and had "no firsthand knowledge of the group's
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks
hate groups, issued a report Dec. 18 contending that the council,
which it described as having 15,000 members in 22 states was "the
incarnation of the infamous white Citizens Councils," which helped
enforce segregation in Mississippi and other Southern states in
the 1950s and '60s."
"The CCC has tried for years to pass itself off
as a respectable, mainstream organization," said Joe Roy, director
of the center's Intelligence Project. "But the fact is, this group
is shot through with white supremacist views, members and political
Mark Potok, the Law Center's spokesman, added
that the old white Citizens Councils were "the white-collar Ku
Klux Klan," noting that they were composed of respected local
business and civic leaders and government officials who sometimes
backed violence, including murder, against blacks seeking civil
The white Citizens Council, formed to battle
the Supreme Court's 1954 school desegregation ruling, was once
Mississippi's most powerful political machine, reaching its height
in the early 1960's with the election of Gov. Ross Barnett. It
raised thousands of dollars for the defense of a supporter, Byron
De La Beckwith, who was convicted in 1994 of murdering civil rights
leader Medgar Evers 31 years earlier.
Bill Minor, dean of Mississippi journalists who
has long followed the race issue, said the Council of Conservative
Citizens was "the reincarnation of the white Citizens Council."
Lord, the council's state coordinator was a white
Citizens Council organizer during the struggle over civil rights
and told The Jackson Clarion-Ledger in 1994 that he used the old
white Citizens Council mailing lists to set up the new organization.
Gordon Baum, a St. Louis lawyer who is the group's chief executive
officer, was a Midwest field organizer for the white Citizens
Council. The new organization was formed at a 1985 meeting in
Atlanta of a group of about 30 men distressed, Baum said, "at
the lack of conservative organizations on the local level, where
the rubber hits the road." He added, "These conservative talking
heads in Washington are just living in baronial splendor, taking
Both men insisted, in telephone interviews, that
the group was not "racist," but concerned with a range of conservative
issues. But nearly every column or article in its quarterly newspaper,
The Citizens Informer, is concerned with race.
For example, "No one can deny the importance
of the question of miscegenation or race-mixing," Robert B. (Tutt)
Patterson, a founder of the original white Citizens Council and
a regular columnist, wrote in last fall's issue. "Its very essence
involves the preservation of the white race as well as the Negro
race. It is a matter of racial survival. Compared with the future
interest we have at stake in this issue, all other matters fade
"Western civilization, with all its might and
glory, would never have achieved its greatness without the directing
hand of God and the creative genius of the white race," Patterson
wrote. "Any effort to destroy the race by a mixture of black blood
is an effort to destroy Western civilization itself. To deny this
is to deny all history."
One of the Mississippi council's major events
is the Black Hawk rally, held in Carroll County before elections
every four years and a mandatory stop for most politicians seeking
statewide or county office. It was originally a fund-raiser for
the white Citizens Council, but is now used to raise money for
the all-white Carroll Academy, which was set up to avoid desegregation.
Lord, the events organizer, said Lott had appeared
at the last two rallies.
A black state legislator, Rep. Willie Perkins,
a Democrat whose district crosses several counties around Greenwood,
said in a telephone interview that he had been invited to the
last event in 1995, but refused to attend because "it takes you
back to the days of the Klan."
In 1992, Lott gave the keynote speech to a semiannual
national board meeting of the council in Greenwood. The account
in The Citizens Informer said he wound up by saying: "The people
in this room stand for the right principles and the right philosophy.
Let's take it in the right direction and our children will be
As recently as 1997, a smiling Lott was pictured
in The Citizens Informer in his Washington office with Baum, the
council's executive officer, Lord, the state organizer, and Tom
Dover, the group's president.
Literature distributed by the council cites endorsements
by a number of conservative politicians, including Fordice; Sen.
Jesse Helms, R-N.C.; the voluble Boston City Councilman Albert
L. (Dapper) O'Neil, and former Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox, who
was noted for distributing souvenir ax handles as symbol of his
method of dealing with people trying to integrate his Atlanta-area
restaurant in the 1960s.
The endorsement attributed to Lott says, "America
needs a national organization to mobilize conservative, patriotic
citizens to help protect our flag, Constitution and other symbols
Lott's newspaper column, which is distributed
by his office as a release, is also a regular feature of The Citizen
"We're a rather large organization in Mississippi,"
Baum said, sounding somewhat aggrieved at the slight. "I would
assume someone as astute as Mr. Lott would have a pretty good
grasp of us."
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