I am Tom Freeland, a lawyer in Oxford, Mississippi. The picture in the header is my law office. I'm on Twitter as NMissC

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Gov Barbour revises the Citizens Council history

Haley Barbour has been expounding about 60s Mississippi history again in a bizarre and creative way– recasting the Citizens Council as, uh, a force for racial reconciliation.  Mathew Yglesias handles deconstructing this, but possibly not fully.

Both Mr. Mott and Mr. Kelly had told me that Yazoo City was perhaps the only municipality in Mississippi that managed to integrate the schools without violence. I asked Haley Barbour why he thought that was so.

“Because the business community wouldn’t stand for it,” he said. “You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”

In interviews Barbour doesn’t have much to say about growing up in the midst of the civil rights revolution. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” he said. “I remember Martin Luther King came to town, in ’62. He spoke out at the old fairground and it was full of people, black and white.”

There’s more on the NYTimes site.

The Citizens Council was founded in the wake of the Brown decision, based on a speech by Judge Tom Brady.  That speech was published as a book by the council; a copy of the cover of that book, Black Monday:  Segregation or Amalgamation– America Has Its Choice, is at the top of the post.

That alone should demonstrate that the Council was not the Committee for Racial Reconciliation.

People familiar with the Citizens Council know how it operated.  If the council decided someone was attending meetings of civil rights organizations, what the council did was contact the person’s landlord or employer and have them evicted or fired.  Anyone who signed petitions about school desegregation were similarly treated.  Businesses that did not support the Council were shunned.

Newspaper editor P.E. East in Petal, Mississippi made a point of attacking the council in his newspaper, and was essentially put out of business for it (although he produced an entertaining book about his travails, Magnolia Jungle).

This story is most visible through the papers of the State Sovereignty Commission, a state spying organization founded to fight the civil rights movement, like the Citizens Council, after the Brown decision.  There is a folder at the state archives of the commissions interactions with the Council in Yazoo City; I spent some time just now browsing that folder and hit several items that illustrate what I am talking about at that the council was not founded to do anything remotely like Barbour described.  Here’s an excerpt from a memo from a trip by a commission investigator to Yazoo City in 1960:

A reading of the commission file for Yazoo County has meeting after meeting where Commission investigators come to town to meet with Citizen Council leaders and local law enforcement to decide what to do about folks who, say, have a car tag that turns up outside a civil rights meetings across the state.

I’ll be posting more about this later….

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