'Resegregation,' Old Divisions Take New Form
Conservative Group Evokes South's
Thomas B. Edsall, Washington Post
Friday, April 9, 1999
Miss. � Time doesn't stand still in Carroll County, but it moves
Confederate flag and a memorial to the Confederate soldier --
"Truth Crushed To Earth Will Rise Again" -- cast a long afternoon
shadow across the courthouse in the town square.
hill from the square, 425 white children and teenagers attend
a private school that was established in 1969, after the Supreme
Court in 1968 strengthened its decision to end segregation in
the public schools.
is a dirt-poor county in central Mississippi that straddles the
Delta to the west and the Piney Woods to the east, about a two-hour
drive north of Jackson. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.)
was born here. He left as a toddler when his father moved down
to Pascagoula to get work in the shipyards.
County is a stronghold of the Council of Conservative Citizens
(C of CC), an organization that has promoted racist views and
has come under national scrutiny in recent months because a number
of high-profile politicians, including Lott, have spoken at council
the civil rights revolution is taught in history classes, the
remnants of Jim Crow live on in much of Mississippi. Both the
council and a post-civil rights system of white private schools
reflect a new form of segregation, or "resegregation." Here, the
council and private schools are defensive, holding actions against
the continuing integration of the races in public accommodations,
the workplace and politics.
County and this area is very racial, prejudiced still. Underneath
they are still fighting the Civil War, emotionally, psychologically,
but in different ways now," said Eli Witshire, 61, who lives in
Carrollton, about half a mile from here, Bobby Cox, 62, runs a
business replacing broken car windows. Cox speaks a language not
heard much anymore in America: "There's not one that won't steal
from you. That's the way they're bred," Cox said of blacks. "The
white folks is the ones supporting the public schools. They don't
pay no damn tax."
the "white folks" who deserted the public schools when desegregation
was mandated, severely weakening support for public schools. In
many Mississippi communities with large black populations, the
segregated system of public schools has in theory been replaced
with integrated schools. In practice, however, whites who go to
the public schools are most often the poorest and cannot afford
to attend one of the private academies found throughout the Delta.
The academies, Christian schools and other private institutions
have become the schools of choice for middle-class whites in heavily
resegregation is so ingrained, most people in Mississippi don't
appear to give it a second thought.
white academies meld into the Mississippi landscape, so too does
the Council of Conservative Citizens. The May 12, 1998, meeting
of the Greater Jackson council at 7 p.m. at Penn's Fish House
was, for example, just one of more than a dozen meetings routinely
listed in the Clarion-Ledger, including a class on osteoporosis
at the Mississippi Baptist Medical Center, an AARP meeting at
the Golden Key Center and the monthly meeting of the Mississippi
Association of Government Purchasing Agents at the attorney general's
Council of Conservative Citizens is the outgrowth of the white
Citizens Councils of America, an overtly segregationist organization
founded in Indianola, Miss., on July 11, 1954, less than two months
after the day known among some whites here as "Black Monday,"
when the Supreme Court handed down the desegregation decision,
Brown v. Board of Education.
original Citizens Councils were not just accepted in Mississippi,
they dominated state politics. By 1956, the Citizens Councils
claimed a membership of 80,000 in the state and 250,000 in nine
southern states. In 1960, the councils effectively elected Ross
Barnett as governor and played a crucial role in George C. Wallace's
victories in neighboring Alabama.
of the Citizens Councils portrayed themselves as a "better class"
than the back-country rednecks who wore sheets and burned crosses
in the Ku Klux Klan. Council members wore suits and ties, ran
the local department stores and pharmacies, were elected mayor
and were town doctors and dentists.
Patterson, a plantation manager in Indianola, was the driving
force in the creation of the Citizens Councils. In 1956 he wrote:
"Integration represents darkness, regimentation, totalitarianism,
communism and destruction. Segregation represents the freedom
to choose one's associates. Americanism, State sovereignty and
the survival of the white race. These two ideologies are now engaged
in mortal conflict and only one can survive."
the Citizens Councils opened national headquarters in Jackson,
and the Clarion-Ledger, then under conservative ownership, printed
an eight-page section dedicated to the event.
30 years since have not been good to the Citizens Councils. Membership
steadily declined, and, with it, power. The futility of the call
for "massive resistance" became increasingly apparent, as racial
barriers in jobs, voting booths, public accommodations, restaurants,
colleges and schools fell by the wayside.
late 1980s, the Citizens Councils were for all practical purposes
defunct. But at the same time, racial questions acquired new strength
as polarizing issues, with the new vocabulary of federal "giveaway"
programs, "special preferences," "crack-induced" crime and "single
mothers" "dependent" on government checks and food stamps for
survival. The centrality of these issues in the 1980s inspired
leaders of the fading Citizens Councils to think that it might
be possible to establish a new white advocacy organization.
leaders gathered in Atlanta and joined with a diverse group on
the political right -- some activists from the John Birch Society,
others who had worked in the segregationist administrations and
campaigns of Wallace of Alabama and then-Gov. Lester Maddox of
Georgia, and some who supported the white regime in South Africa
-- to form the Council of Conservative Citizens.
new group picked up the old councils' mailing lists and began
to form branches throughout the South, particularly in Mississippi,
South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee, as well as in cities such
as St. Louis, where opposition to court-ordered busing produced
a groundswell of white opposition to federal intervention.
a decade, the Council of Conservative Citizens has built up a
claimed national membership of 15,000, with the largest number
in Mississippi. Operating far to the right on the political spectrum,
the C of CC can easily be dismissed. Mississippi state Rep. Ken
Stribling, a Republican from Jackson, said: "We are talking about
people in their seventies, just old conservatives, you know, Trilateral
Commission mentality, John Birch Society, letter-writing types."
to some degree Stribling is correct, the group remains a force
to be reckoned with in the South. The C of CC has begun to develop
ties to right-wing political movements in Britain and Europe and
has formed an alliance with "racialist" thinkers in and out of
academia. A bipartisan resolution pending in Congress condemns
the group for its "racism and bigotry."
in Mississippi, conservative Gov. Kirk Fordice (R) stands proudly
with the group, declaring that he is not "going to, just because
it's politically correct, demonize the CCC. There are some very
good people in there with some very good ideas. All this stuff
about them being racist, that's hearsay, as far as I'm concerned."
the South, the C of CC is aligned with pro-Confederate flag groups
that wield strong influence in state politics. In South Carolina,
it played a crucial role in the 1998 defeat of Gov. David Beasley
(R), who had tried to remove the Confederate flag from the state
1998 defeat of Beasley and the near defeat in 1994 of then-Gov.
Zell Miller -- a Georgia Democrat who also sought to take down
the Confederate flag -- has made southern politicians of all stripes
wary of the C of CC and its allies in the Southern Heritage movement.
of the most controversial aspects of the organization is its promotion
of views stressing racial difference and its position that the
United States has traditionally been a white, European culture,
threatened by the values and cultures of blacks and Hispanics.
The group's national board includes self-described "racialist"
Jared Taylor, the Yale-educated author of "Paved With Good Intelligence,"
which argues that people of different races have different levels
months, the C of CC has become a political hot potato for Lott.
The Senate majority leader has spoken to the organization a number
of times -- at local and national gatherings -- has entertained
its leaders in his Senate office and has twice appointed the head
of the Mississippi branch, Bill Lord, to serve as his Senate campaign
chairman in Carroll County.
controversial nationally, the council raises few eyebrows among
white Mississippians. At least two current Republican candidates
for governor have spoken to the group, which claims that some
34 state legislators are members.
split has caused a dilemma for Lott, whose national ambitions,
including possible selection as a vice presidential running mate,
are threatened by his ties to the C of CC. While Lott has renounced
the views promoted by the group, he has been careful to avoid
a high-visibility repudiation that could backfire among his core
supporters of very conservative whites.
even in Lott's Carroll County birthplace, while race remains a
dominant issue, the tenor of the discussion has undergone change,
even if muted.
H. Stanford, who runs a feed store on Route 82 with her husband
Harmon and for more than 30 years has been active with the Citizens
Councils, the Council of Conservative Citizens and the local private
academy, couches her arguments not in the language of segregation
but in the newer language of "choice." She is not against integration,
she said, but "I think they need freedom of choice. If people
want to go, fine, if they don't, let 'em go where they want to.
To me, there is nothing fairer than that."
Carroll County 21%
Carroll County $22,300
Figures are 1996 estimates
SOURCE: U.S. Census
Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company