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:
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.