The White Citizens' Council (WCC) was a segregationist organization opposed to racial integration. Headed by Gordon Lee Baum, a St. Louis attorney, the 15,000 member organization provided a haven for White Southerners and their children by establishing white educational academies in the South. The successor organization to the White Citizens' Council is the Council of Conservative Citizens.
Formation and early years of the movement
Fourteen Whites in the Delta town of Indianola, Mississippi, founded the first known chapter of the WCC on July 11, 1954. Robert 'Tut' Patterson, a plantation manager and the former captain of the Mississippi State University football team played a leading role in the establishment of the organization. Additional chapters soon appeared in other communities.
In Louisiana, leaders of the original citizens council included State Senator and gubernatorial candidate William Rainach, future U.S Representative Joe D. Waggonner, Jr., publisher Ned Touchstone, and Judge Leander Perez, considered the political boss of Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes south of New Orleans.
Within a few months, the WCC had spread beyond Mississippi into the rest of the Deep South. It often had the support of the leading citizens of many communities, including business, civic and sometimes religious leaders. Unlike the Ku Klux Klan, the WCC met openly and was seen as being a respectable organization. Their publication was called The Citizen.
Members of the Citizens' Council were sometimes Klansmen. In fact, the WCC was even referred to during the civil rights era as "an uptown Klan," "a white collar Klan," "a button-down Klan," and "a country club Klan." The rationale for these nicknames was that it appeared that sheets and hoods had been discarded and replaced by suits and ties.
Resistance to desegregation
The movement grew as enforcement of racial desegregation became more intense, probably peaking in the early 1960s. By this time there was a sign at the city limits of many small Southern towns proclaiming "The White Citizens' Council of ______ Welcomes You".
As school desegregation increased, in some communities "council schools," sponsored by the WCC, were set up for white children. Derisively referred to by some as "segregation academies," some exist even today, although they have generally assumed other sponsorship and most have been forced to integrate, at least in theory, in order to maintain the tax-exempt status afforded to non-profit private schools, which is granted only to those which maintain a policy of racial and ethnic nondiscrimination.
Decline of the movement
By the 1970s as white Southerners began to accept desegregation as a permanent aspect of life, the influence of the WCCs began to wane. The attitude of most white Southerners changed as well. A few such groups still exist, their names changed to something similar to Conservative Citizens' Council, or member chapters of a kind of successor organization, the Council of Conservative Citizens. U.S. Senator Trent Lott, and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour among other mainstream conservative leaders, received some negative publicity in recent years for addressing one such group.