This won’t come as a surprise to those familiar with the history of the late Jim Crow Era or the White Citizens Council movement. But as author John Dittmer explains, the decision of the Yazoo City Citizens Council to try to keep out the KKK wasn’t a matter of disagreeing with their objectives. They just thought their methods would be more effective in preserving Jim Crow and that it was better to have White Supremacist forces concentrated in a single organization. As the Yazoo City Citizens Council explained in reference to the Klan, “your Citizens’ Council was formed to preserve separation of the races, and believes that it can best serve the county where it is the only organization operating in this field.”
The most generous thing you can say about the Citizens Councils is that they argued for using legal (boycotts) and extra-legal means of defending White Supremacy in the South as opposed to the paramilitary and terrorist violence of the Klan. Whether that distinction always held up in practice is debatable. But that was the idea. As noted before, the Citizens Council were the ‘respectable’ face segregation, in contrast to the Klan whose efforts in the dying days of Jim Crow they often did believe to be counter-productive.
Barbour has now recanted his original praise of the group and said the Yazoo City Citizens Council “totally indefensible.”
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.