Calendar photo caption: About 800 people attended a meeting of the Tuscaloosa County White Citizens' Council at the courthouse in February 1956, after Autherine Lucy integrated the University of Alabama. (Associated Press)
In 1954, weeks after the Supreme Court struck down racial segregation in public schools, a Mississippi plantation owner brought together white men and women to form the first White Citizens' Council in opposition to integration. One year later, 250 councils across the South boasted 60,000 members. By 1956, 30 states had active councils, and by 1957, membership reached 250,000. White Citizens' Councils reached California by 1964 and a national advertising campaign urged further expansion.
Councils were led by business, religious, and civic leaders who used social pressure and economic retaliation to intimidate and coerce supporters of racial integration. In Elloree, South Carolina, 17 Black parents were fired or evicted from their farms after they signed a pro-integration petition. The council in Columbus, Mississippi, influenced the Bank of Commerce to deny credit to Emmett Stringer, a Black dentist and former stat NAACP president. Segregationists terrorized Dr. Stringer's mother, calling to falsely tell her that he had been killed and asking, "Do you have his body yet?"
Dubbed the "Uptown KKK" and sometimes sharing members with the Ku Klux Klan, White Citizens' Councils claimed to oppose violence, but their rhetoric suggested otherwise.
"When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to abolish the Negro race, proper methods should be used," read a flyer distributed by the council in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956. "Among them are guns, bow and arrows, slingshots and knives. We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all whites are created with certain rights; among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of dead n---s."