In my Mississippi news roundup the other day, I emphasized the reported comment of former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers. Jordan Golub, who heads the Royal Confederate Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, recalled a phone conversation he once had with Bowers:
"Bowers said, 'I don't think the KKK is the way to go in the present day,'" Gollub said, explaining that organizations such as the Council of Conservative Citizens may be more successful now.
To understand what the CCC is, you have to know the history of the White Citizens Councils. Susan Klopfer has provided a good, brief history of the two organizations in the comments:
Shortly after the first Citizens Councils or CC (home grown by Robert "Tut" Patterson of Itta Bena) became a reality, the New York Post sent a reporter into the Deep South on a fact-finding mission. Reporter Stan Optowsky spoke plainly in his assessment, calling the Councils “a loose federation [with the] avowed purpose [to] battle the principle and practice of integration, and to crush all – the Negro and white – who dare advocate the colored man’s rights.”
After spending five weeks doing research, the reporter declared the “actual purpose was to elect the ‘right’ candidate; to maintain cheap labor; to eliminate a gnawing business competitor; to protect a shaky job; and to make ‘a few fast bucks.’”
Help in growing Citizens Councils soon came from Patterson’s “neighbor,” Senator James O. Eastland, who wanted to grow an even larger organization for himself. In the summer of 1955, Eastland announced it was “essential that a nation-wide organization be set up” to “mobilize and organize public opinion” throughout the United States in order to combat school desegregation.
The senator said that a “great crusade” would be required to fight the NAACP, CIO, and “all the conscienceless pressure groups who are attempting our destruction.”
And so within a month of Eastland’s statement, the Federation for Constitutional Government (FCG), a short-lived organization, was formed in Memphis. Representatives from twelve Southern states came together with the support of Eastland, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, former Governor Fielding Wright of Mississippi, U. S. Representative John Bell Williams of Mississippi, and other politicians.
Patterson, Judge Thomas Brady and William J. Simmons were elected to positions on the executive committee. John U. Barr of Louisiana was selected president, and it was Eastland’s intention that the Federation would “coordinate” the work of the Citizens Councils and several other organizations.
Many members of the Citizens Councils did not share this view, however, and in April 1956, sixty-five representatives from Citizens Councils in eleven Southern states secretly met to form their own “overseer,” the Citizens Councils of America. The following October, CCA selected Patterson as secretary.
From 1954 to 1989, Patterson spent his time growing the Citizens Councils through the CCA, as he traveled thousands of miles around the Southeastern states to meet with members and their leaders. As Council numbers grew to over 300,000 members, Eastland helped out, by calling on state governments to fund the movement.
It would be Patterson who with Gordon Lee Baum co-morphed the Councils to their current neo-nazi existence as the CCC or Conservative Citizens Councils in 1985. Baum had been a regional director in the first Citizens Councils.Patterson remains actively involved in CCC, and still writes for the organization’s journal, The Informer.
The Bowers remark speaks to the numbers and the political power of the CCC:
An Intelligence Report from the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that names of CCC members are not public. But after collecting the names of 175 members mentioned in council publications and elsewhere, the Report “was able to document ties to racist groups of 17 of those members — almost 10 percent of the total.” Claiming 15,000 members in 1999, CCC was in the news when Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott landed in hot water after speaking before the group. Lott spoke again in 2005, as various state legislators and judges were scheduled to attend CCC meetings.
Meanwhile, "a significant number of members have been linked to unabashedly racist groups including the Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; the National Association for the Advancement of White People; the America First Party; and the neo-Nazi National Alliance. Others have ties to militant ‘Patriot’ organizations such as the extreme-right-wing Populist Party and David Duke.”
Most fascinating, perhaps, in Susan's comment is the passage at the end, recounting her interview last fall with Robert "Tutt" Patterson.
At the age of 84, the senior Mississippian used his thick wooden cane tip to tap out the framed certificates on his wall awarded after World War II and for Indianola’s Citizen of the Year. The mid-morning interview took place at his home office in Itta Bena, where a book on the Reich stood out on his mahogany desktop.
The Patterson home is set on a large lot next to a bayou. “We were able to purchase all of the land down to the water. It’s safer and no one can just move next door,” Patterson pointed out.
The conversation moved to the Pattersons’ children and their individual achievements. One daughter married a Moroccan – “Moroccans are like Europeans, you know. They have kings.”
Are the original Citizens Councils still intact? Patterson said they are still meeting around the Delta. “People would be surprised,” he said with a quick grin.