Shedding Light On Civil Rights-Era Citizens Councils
AUDIE CORNISH, Host:
Well, we wanted to know more about the Citizens' Council, so we're joined by Hodding Carter the Third. He is a professor of Public Policy and Leadership at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a former reporter in the Mississippi Delta, where he was born and raised. Hodding Carter, welcome to the show.
HODDING CARTER: It's good to be with you.
CORNISH: So you actually did some reporting on Citizens' Councils back in the '60s. Tell us, how did they come about and why?
CARTER: They were formed in the Delta, which is where our paper was. They were formed for one reason only: To oppose any form of integration. They were formed immediately after the desegregation decision of 1954.
CORNISH: That was the point. And at every point they had a chance, they used pressure of every sort except overt violence to put down any dissent from total white supremacy.
CORNISH: So you said this is in response to the Supreme Court's Brown versus the Board of Education ruling.
CARTER: That's correct.
CORNISH: But who would have been a member of the Citizens' Council in a place like Yazoo City?
CARTER: In fact, Haley got this one right. The original members were in fact the sort of leadership types. They figured if they came together, crushed dissent and crushed any black who was trying to go toward integration, they could in effect prevent the next stage that had been used before in the South, which was overt violence. And which, of course, was to come again later in the South.
CORNISH: So what kind of methods did they use?
CARTER: Within two weeks, all but something like 12 of those 50-something names had been stricken. Some of the people had left town, some of the businesses they had, had been closed. Immediate, fast, very quick lesson in what nonviolence meant to the Citizen's Council.
CORNISH: And I do want to say civil rights leader Medgar Evers was killed in 1963 by a member of the Citizen's Council in Jackson, Mississippi. And there is other evidence of use of violence by members of councils. Was the Yazoo City Council different?
CARTER: The killers in Mississippi swam in a sea of Citizen's Council control and, therefore, protection for what they did. Never, ever were those people brought to justice by white leadership.
CORNISH: And how are we to interpret Governor Barbour's memories of Yazoo City, and his statement about these councils? I mean, what does it say about him and maybe his political prospects?
CARTER: Why was he saying that? I think he was talking to a sympathetic interviewer and lost his mind.
CORNISH: That's Hodding Carter III, former journalist in Mississippi, also former member of the Carter administration, and now a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Hodding Carter, thank you so much.
CARTER: Thank you.
CORNISH: And Hodding Carter joined us from the studios of WUNC in Chapel Hill.
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