Stephanie R. Rolph
Resisting Equality: The Citizens’ Council, 1954–1989
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2018
The definitive book on the “civil rights” movement remains to be written, but Stephanie Rolph, a Professor (and a privileged “Becky,” no matter what she believes) at Mississippi’s Millsaps College has provided a solid reference for such a book. In Resisting Equality, she looks at the “civil rights” movement from the perspective of Mississippi’s white resistance in the form of the Citizens’ Councils of America. The first of the councils was established in the Mississippi Delta town of Indianola following the 1954 Brown vs. Board decision, and then proliferated into a network of like-minded groups. The Citizens’ Councils would go on to organize white resistance to black “civil rights” advances in Mississippi, then the greater South, and then throughout the rest of the United States when the organization began broadcasting a radio program from Washington, DC. They also reached out to the whites defending civilization in Rhodesia and South Africa in their final, rearguard action against the Dinduization of their respective societies. They should be seen as Pro-White Metapolitics 1.0: a way to do things that was reasonably successful in the modes of communication that existed prior to the Internet.
The book is written in the grating, modern-day language of easily bruised and micro-aggressed academia. There are passages such as “the local power of a white minority united in their commitment to put down black mobility.” Fortunately, Rolph doesn’t go too far with ultra-sensitive language. She doesn’t turn a phrase such as “violences [sic] against people of color, especially women and the LGBTQ community,” the gist of which I’ve read elsewhere. The problem with this language and tone is that it casts the impression that the writer doesn’t really seek to understand what motivates white advocates. Instead, it adopts the perspective of a frightened child describing ghosts. Nonetheless, the facts and timeline of the Citizens’ Councils are ably described, and their leaderships’ ideas are expressed through actual quotations. This review of Resisting Equality will attempt to shed light on white resistance to “civil rights” through a mixture of describing the book, my own ideas, and exploring the white response to the social victory that was “civil rights.”
The “civil rights” movement achieved a social victory, but not a real or moral victory
What must be said up front is that the “civil rights” movement didn’t really win. In every case, whites fled integration as fast as they could and rearranged the political boundaries of their municipalities to stay within the bounds of the various “civil rights” laws while keeping themselves and their kids as far away from blacks as possible. Even the white guilt crowd doesn’t practice what they preach. Whites with the most impeccable credentials in political correctness live in areas which are overwhelmingly white. Rather, what “civil rights” advocates won was a social victory. Today, no respectable person can enumerate the many problems wrought by black integration without losing social status. It was thus a social victory rather than a moral victory, because a social policy that turned flourishing cities into ruins (among other problems) after its implementation is immoral.
Thinking about the Citizens’ Councils
The book’s narrative pokes along in the form of cataloging facts in the aforementioned tone of the ultra-sensitive. A clear, central historical theme is hard to find. As mentioned above, the Citizens’ Councils ideas are quoted, but they are given in such a disconnected way that one thinks it to be a deliberate misunderstanding of why whites would be against “civil rights.” It makes the book a bit of a snore.
However, some ideas do bubble up. For one, Professor Rolph describes white advocates whom I was unfamiliar with and books of which I was unaware. One such person is the man who provided the ideological inspiration for the Citizens’ Councils: Judge Thomas P. Brady (1903–1973), author of Black Monday (1954). The book is the published version of a speech Judge Brady gave offering a legal critique of the Brown vs. Board decision. Another is Carlton Putnam (1901–1998), a Yankee from New England’s Putnam family who wrote the book Race and Reason: A Yankee View (1961). This latter book is a tightly-argued case for race realism of the sort that one sees in the likes of American Renaissance (in fact, American Renaissance republished Race and Reason in 2006). The names of two advocates who became the backbone and sinew of the Citizens’ Councils are Robert B. “Tut” Patterson (1921–2017) and William J. Simmons (1916–2007).
The story of the Citizens’ Councils organizers follows the standard pattern of those drawn to nationalist activism. In all nationalist movements, the leadership and ideological drive is provided and supported by those who are successful, wealthier than average, and of higher social status. In this case, both men served in the Second World War in prominent roles: Patterson was an officer in the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and jumped into Normandy, while William Simmons served in the British Army as an engineer in the British West Indies until the attack on Pearl Harbor, when he joined the US Navy. He soon left the Navy (likely for health reasons) and spent the rest of the war at the US State Department. Likewise, like many nationalist activists, they didn’t hail from the most homogeneous regions of their society, but from the diverse frontiers – in this case, the Mississippi Delta. Exposure to diversity’s negatives creates an increased awareness in future racial advocates. The Mississippi Delta is a region where whites are outnumbered by blacks several times over. For the Delta’s whites, “civil rights” was a matter of life or death.
The Citizens’ Councils worked very well in Mississippi, but they were less effective in other parts of the South, such as North Carolina, mainly for economic reasons. The Citizens’ Councils’ niche was non-violent, legal white advocacy organized by the upper classes. Those in the organization insisted that the Citizens’ Councils allowed white interests to be achieved without the sort of terrorism practiced by groups like the KKK. As the “civil rights” movement advanced, the moderates in the Citizens’ Councils moved on to metapolitics, while the radicals in the Klan moved on to increasingly illegal acts until they were infiltrated and dismantled by law enforcement. It was, however, a Citizens’ Councils member who shot and killed the black “civil rights” leader Medgar Evers (1925–1963). Evers’ murder in June 1963 might have prevented what had happened in Birmingham, Alabama in April of that year from also happening in Jackson, Mississippi. (Professor Rolph doesn’t draw this conclusion, but it is easy to infer from her description of the circumstances surrounding the slaying.)
In the early days of its existence, the Citizens’ Councils used a form of economic warfare against local blacks who were organizing opposition to segregation. The Councils also sought to unify whites to support their agenda. Lack of white unity, and natural human resentment, was a key problem that the Citizens’ Councils’ founders recognized right away. They were wealthy Southerners of the same political and social class that had brought about the 1860 secession crisis, which turned into the very bloody American Civil War. They knew well that it would be easy for other whites to dislike them. However, they had learned from earlier, ineffective white advocacy efforts. In an interview, Judge Brady said as much when he looked back at the walkout of the “Dixiecrat” delegates at the 1948 Democratic Party Convention: “I actually think the name Dixiecrat did irreparable harm to the States’ Rights movement because it tended to localize our objectives and antagonized, perhaps, associates that we might have obtained in northern states.”
Citizens’ Councils radio broadcasts rarely dealt strictly with racial issues, instead focusing on things like states’ rights, anti-Communism, and economic policy. Many of their ideas in this regard influenced the white Southerners who had recently moved to the so-called “Sunbelt” of the American Southwest, in places like Arizona and Southern California. The Citizens’ Councils thus provided ideas to the Nixon and Reagan administrations. The hot-button issues of the 1970s such as flag-burning, school prayer, the “free market” economy, abortion, and so on were thus likely a form of anti-“civil rights” activism in a misdirected and/or cryptic form. The Citizens’ Councils also aided George Wallace’s candidacy in 1968; Wallace purchased the Councils’ mailing list for a great deal of money.
Ronald Reagan’s first campaign in 1980 as well as his presidency also owed a debt to the radical Right’s ideas. Indeed, Professor Rolph makes the case that “extremist” or “fringe” groups make a big impact:
Political scientist Kirkpatrick Sale, author of Power Shift, cautioned his readers in 1975 against undervaluing the radical strands of conservativism that included movements as Friends of Rhodesian Independence, the John Birch Society, the American Nazi Party, Sons of Liberty, and the Minutemen, and the Liberty Lobby. Among all of these organizations and movements, Sale included the Citizens’ Council. And while historians have marked the Council’s influence to have been in steep decline after 1964, taken as a national movement within the Radical Right, a comfortable home within the Republican Party suggests that Radical Right contributions were critical components for the party realignments that defined southern politics post-1964.
As a side note, it is striking that those whites who were most negatively affected by policies such as busing and desegregation – namely, blue-collar Northerners and white Protestant Southerners – were those who mostly strongly protested abortion in an organized way. Abortion was a way to fight “civil rights” without the problem of dealing with the movement’s social victory. Judges who didn’t like abortion were also less likely to support desegregation and similar issues.
The weakness of all books written about the “civil rights” movement that I’ve read thus far is that they only deal with a small window of time. They begin in 1954, with Brown vs. Board and the Civil Rights Act of that year, then describe the events leading up to King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, and then usually end with the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Resisting Equality continues up to 1989, so that’s something, but like all pro-“civil rights” books, nothing is mentioned about how black communities fared after the “civil rights” victories. Today, Selma is something of a ghost town – as indeed all black communities are. It would have been nice for Professor Rolph to have taken the Citizens’ Councils predictions and see how they panned out.
Of “civil rights,” I’ve come to believe the following. First, by the early 1930s, the movement already had a full head of steam, with little white resistance outside of the Deep South. This meant that “civil rights” organizing and metapolitical activity had already matured by the early 1890s, at the latest. The rioting of black US Army soldiers in Tampa, Florida in 1898 indicates that the fact that “civil rights” and anti-white metapolitics could lead to violence was already known more than five decades prior to Brown vs. Board. Furthermore, the movement’s choice of goals – specifically integration – was the worst of many options. The Afro community in North America could have been encouraged to create a black Zion in Africa. The one proponent of such a scheme, Marcus Garvey, was ironically deported from the United States to his native Jamaica.
Next, the “civil rights” movement made gain after gain between 1933 and 1954 with no grassroots resistance from whites whatsoever, at least in a broad sense. The rise of the Citizens’ Councils in 1954, as well as their appeal beyond the Deep South, represented a new and growing white consciousness rather than the last stand of “old and bigoted” reactionaries.
Additionally, the media is always tempted to deliberately stoke racial tensions. The New York Times constantly brings up Emmett Till, and racial incidents are often exaggerated to the point of sparking riots. Such events sell papers, bring “clicks,” and bump up ratings.
And finally, integration failed – black society simply didn’t rise to the occasion to match white accomplishments.
That the goals of the “civil rights” leaders were the most unbalanced of all the possible options towards a racial accommodation in the United States means that it is likely that those whites who supported “civil rights” were either deluded or hostile to white American society in some way. Being deluded needs no further explanation, but being hostile to white American society comes in several different flavors. There is no doubt that Communists in the United States supported “civil rights”; indeed, they were very active in the “civil rights” movement in the 1930s. It was through historical revisionist Communist literature that marginal historical figures like Harriet Tubman became national heroes. Communist propaganda also led to revisionism and outright denial in relation to black crime, such as in the case of the Scottsboro Boys in 1931, which led directly to the recent “exoneration” of the Central Park Five.
At the heart of all Leftist movements that trace their lineage to the Jacobins of the French Revolution is envy and a burning desire to destroy. As it has been well-known that all black-ruled societies come to ruin since the Haitian revolution of 1804, it is not much of a stretch to say that many whites who supported “civil rights” were not entirely displeased with the burning of the cities in the late 1960s. And the threat of an armed black rebellion in the United States persists today.
Regardless of the author’s intentions, the fact that pro-white literature is being looked at by someone in academia at all is notable. This book is not yet another patronizing and agonizing sugar-sweet retelling of the life of The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., nor is it some sort of point-and-sputter account of those mean, old Southerners lynching angel-faced and innocent black baby boys. It was worth the read. The Citizens’ Councils closed down in 1989, but the reason for their existence in the first place – keeping the schools in the Mississippi Delta segregated – was achieved. By their own standards, the Citizens’ Councils were a success.
 Stephanie R. Rolph, Resisting Equality: The Citizens’ Council, 1954–1989 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2018), p. 142.
 By contrast, T. R. Fehrenbach’s This Kind of War begins by saying that the US Army in 1950 was unprepared for combat, and he weaves that theme into a highly readable history of the Korean War. Along the way, he adds additional concepts that provide insight into President Truman’s very controversial decisions as the war progressed.
 Rolph, Resisting Equality, p. 164.
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