State of Segregation . . .

After reading The Last Resort, Victor wrote me about his experience in a “Council” school in Mississippi. These schools were started by the Citizens’ Council (logo below) when the threat of integration became real. My children were enrolled in just such a private, all-white school almost as soon as I left town.

A Little History

In 1954, when the Supreme Court ordered schools desegregated, Mississippi responded by forming the  Citizens’ Council. The Council attracted businessmen, politicians, and professionals, and chapters formed all over the South. Unlike the Klan, it operated openly, in Rotary Club style.

The Citizens’ Council used economic tactics against African Americans who supported desegregation and voting rights, or who belonged to the NAACP; the tactics included “calling in” their mortgages, denying loans and business credit, and boycotting black-owned businesses. In Yazoo City, Mississippi, in 1955, the Citizens’ Council arranged for the names of 53 signers of a petition for school integration to appear in a local paper, and soon afterward, the petitioners lost their jobs and had their credit cut off. Quoting Charles Payne: “the Councils operated by unleashing a wave of economic reprisals against anyone, Black or white, seen as a threat to the status quo.”

Victor grew up in my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, and was sent to an all-white Council school. Here’s his quote:

“They asked graduating seniors to fill out a two-line form about how we thought of our education at a Citizen’s Council school, I wrote a 24-page, single-spaced summary.  They called me downtown to the office, and I had to sit with the president (lower case on purpose) of the White Citizens’ Councils of America, who told me I would not be accepted into ANY college in America.

I laughed…I had already been accepted at Millsaps…with a scholarship…and, as I graduated, I spit into my hand as I shook the then-president’s hand and took my diploma.  Couldn’t do much as a 17 year old, but did what I could.”

How many of us felt the same way and never did a thing?

For a deeper look at the Citizens Council, read the transcript of State of Seige describing Mississippi in those years:

 Our Progress?

Today, schools are more segregated by race and income than they were in the 1950s, according to Ezra Klein in the Washington Post: a third of all black and Latino children sit every day in classrooms that are 90 to 100 percent black and Latino.

5 responses »

  1. As a Northerner, I’m always amazed by these stories.

  2. First of all, thank you for revealing the hateful strategies used by southern whites to prevent the destruction of racial barriers in order to protect the southern traditions so demeaning to so many.

    I’ve grown up in the west where — though racism surely existed — it was a more subtle form that persists in many places even in these “enlightened” times.

    I agree fully with Ezra Klein’s statement, and suspect that today’s charter schools movement has been used to totally destroy our system of public education, nationally, and are the remnants of the “Academies” created in the South that were State supported and where white children were enrolled to prevent racial integration from ever occurring.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post, and when next I’m in your neck of the woods, it would be great to get together and re-visit some of that history.

    Betty Reid Soskin

  3. My first job outside of my famiy’s buisness was in Newark New Jersey. It was 1967, the summer of love in San Francisco. The race riots in Newark. When I moved to California 7 years later I thought the world would be different, but when I moved to Oakland it becaame clear that there were just as strong divisions between the races as in New Jersey. While it is often cited as the most diverse city in the world, in actuality all the whites blacks latinos and asian had their own turfs. The schools all mirrored their neighborhoods. After many years these boundaries were still apparent, although the streets that bordered the racial divides became more diverse, the people of color clearly had limited opportunities while the whites, of course, had far more. Hence the whites lived in the plush hills, the asians in the foothills and the rest in the flatlands and near industrial sites.

    A microcosm of the rest of our country. Oakland’s economy stumbled further right after the Loma Prieta earthquake. With unemployment among people of color rose past 30% more people of color who had less opportunites chose to manufacture and sell drugs to feed their families. The prisons became more full of people of color when the three strikes law was passed and the “war on drugs” was proclaimed to be the solution. It should have been called “War on People of Color.”

    Change is slow, people are fearful, our education is tainted by lies. But darlin, if the president of our country, a white/black man, is condoning gay marriage then there is a big hunka chunk of evidence that things they are a-changin.


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