August 18, 2017
What was a citizen’s council?
Over the years, people have questioned why Rememberinghistory.com does what it does: teach and honor African American history. We teach about people, events and problems that—sadly—schools fail to teach and that standard history books—again, sadly–fail to include. But our mission at rememberinghistory.com is to keep history alive and to keep learning from history. And we believe that history, truthfully told, includes the good, the bad and the ugly. It includes the triumphant, the catastrophic, and the cowardly. It includes the happy, the sad and the disillusioned. It includes the peacemaker, the evildoer and the indolent. History includes the whole range of the human experience and emotion. We want to remember this. And we want to learn from it.
So, I return to my original question:
What was a citizens’ council?
People aged 55 and over might remember citizens’ councils. But younger people might not be familiar with the term.
Was it a form of local government like a city council?
Was it a form of “neighborhood watch”?
Those are great guesses but they’re wrong. The “neighborhood watch” answer comes closer but it’s still not accurate. The name, “citizens’ council” misleading.
That is why we must remember history.
A citizens’ council was a group or associated network of white supremacists in Mississippi and, later, spread throughout the southern states. Formed in 1954, the citizens’ councils were comprised of the county’s business leaders, law enforcement officers, local doctors and prominent civic and religious leaders. They worked collectively to stop racial integration in schools and public facilities and to oppose Black voter registration efforts. They were notorious for using severe intimidation methods, distributing propaganda and supporting violence against Black citizens and civil rights activists.
Citizens’ Councils (later known as White Citizens’ Councils) were the forebears to the Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC), which were formed in 1988 in Atlanta. The Council of Conservative Citizens is also a white supremacist organization that supports white nationalist, far right and paleo-conservative causes.
The CofCC is composed of high level state and federal government officials, Supreme Court justices and prominent business leaders. It opposes multiculturalism (including interracial marriage), immigration, globalism, affirmative action, racial quotas and federalism. While the group does not engage in violence, it’s known for promoting “the agenda of the Ku Klux Klan and the demeanor of the Rotary Club.” Open intimidation is used like firing Black employees, “calling in” mortgages and denying loans and business credit to African Americans or others involved in civil rights work. The group members also use their positions to influence legislation, law enforcement as well as to control the economic rights of minorities in America.
Why is it important to know about citizens’ councils and the other racist groups?
Aren’t they just a terrible relic from the past?
Recent events indicate that racism and white supremacy are not relegated to past centuries. They are practiced here and now.
Police violence against African Americans—and the failure to punish the officers involved
Increased gentrification of urban neighborhoods causing displacement of African American homes and businesses
Rising number of hate groups throughout the country
Marches and violence by white supremacists and fascist groups
Attacks, threats and intimidation of civil rights workers and protesters
Failure to punish threats and violence against people of color as domestic terrorism
Restrictive new immigration laws that exclude and punish people of color
1,500 Confederate symbols and monuments on public land
Racism is part of the American modern experience.
White supremacy continues to be a part of the American modern experience.
Citizens’ councils no longer formally exist. But the Council of Conservative Citizens continues to operate every day. In 1995, Dylann Roof who murdered 9 African Americans in a South Carolina church was actually inspired by the rhetoric on the CofCC’s website! “Segregation schools” that were created by citizens’ councils in southern states for white students still exist. Today, these schools accept a limited number of non-white students but their mission remains the same: to educate white children separate from non-white children.
We all must learn history. It is not a group of stories about people, places and events from the past.
History is about today’s people, places and events. And history is being made today.
How can YOU make history today? How can you fight racism and work to build a society based on equality and justice?
Here are steps that you can take to get involved.
Yes, history IS still important!