Maybe He Wants to Be on the Texas SBOE

Remember the revisionist history that members of the Texas State Board of Education were pushing in the debate over new social studies curriculum standards? This was especially evident in efforts by some board members to whitewash American history when it came to race and civil rights issues. At one point board member Don McLeroy even suggested that women and minorities should thank men and white people for securing their civil and equal rights — as if the decades of struggle to win those rights were just a footnote in history.

Now Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is trying to revise the racist history of White Citizens Councils in the South during the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s. Here’s Barbour talking about his hometown of Yazoo City, Miss.:

“You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”

Hmmm… Well, here’s what Prof. Robert Mickey of the University of Michigan says about that ridiculous bit of historical revisionism:

“This was an organization that spread very quickly across the South, directly in response to Brown v. Board of Education. Usually they were against violence because of its harm to economic development; firms wouldn’t want to relocate to places that had a lot of violence. So their tools of slowing down the South’s democratization was to use economic intimidation. … They intimidated black parents from signing petitions demanding that school districts be desegregated, sometimes by printing the signatories in local newspapers, which oftentimes led to the signatures being recanted because the parents understood and feared the consequences of being publicly outed like that. So Barbour’s right — on one hand, they often helped out on the Klan, and a lot of times they were interested in deterring white mob violence. But Northerners are right that it’s like the Klan.”

In the same article, Joseph Crespino, an associate professor of history at Emory University, also weighs in on Barbour’s argument:

“One of the things the Citizen Council would do is carry out economic harassment — sometimes physical intimidation — against local blacks. There was this well-known incident in Yazoo City in the 1950s where a handful of black parents tried to file a lawsuit against a local public school. They lost their jobs because they filed a lawsuit and they participated in the local civil rights movement. So it’s well-documented that the kind of harassment that blacks faced when they tried to desegregate the schools there in Yazoo City.”

Talking Points Memo has more about the racists Barbour is praising. TPM provides images of a Council newspaper from 1956 in Jackson, Miss., about 40 miles from Yazoo City:

The paper includes such headlines as: “Christian Love And Segregation”; “Council Movement Spreads As Nation Reacts to Danger”; “Negroes Taking Over”; “Baptists Rap Mixing” (note: In 1950’s American English, “rap” in this context meant to harshly criticize, similar to “blast” in a headline now); “Rape In Germany,” warning of alleged rapes of German women by African-American soldiers; “Lady Veteran Raps Hospital Mixology”; and “Enemy Made Large Gains In 1955.”

The Texas Freedom Network fought hard to stop this kind of historical revision by the State Board of Education during the social studies curriculum debate. And we’ll continue fighting that battle for as long as it takes. Students should learn the facts, not whitewashed nonsense backed up by little more than the historical revisionism of politicians with an agenda to promote.

2 thoughts on “Maybe He Wants to Be on the Texas SBOE

  1. I grew up in a small southern town outside of Texas during that period of time. Specifically, I have no memory of these Citizens Councils, but what 6-year-old kid would? However, I do have very clear memories of something else that leads naturally and inevitably to the probable existence of an organization like this in my town.

    As some of you know, I am an anthropologist (among other things), and I possessed a knack for identifying and plumbing sociocultural mysteries even as a kid. Life in my southern town had a distinctive “Stepford Wife” sort of quality about it. On the surface, there was the local civil government that one sees in every town, but one could tell by things that happened in town that a “shadow authority” that held true power operated in dark places and pulled puppet strings to run the town. Looking back on it now and what I knew then, it was a small cabal of prominent local citizens, particularly attorneys, medical doctors, large-church pastors, educational administrators, and a few wealthy businessmen.

    It was not just the black people that were frightened by these shadow governors. The poor white citizens were about equally frightened by them. My parents certainly were. Kids know when mom and dad are frightened. It was the kind of environment where a poor person Joe could get into a legitimate dispute with his neighbor Fred (say about the proper location of a fence line), Fred calls his friend (medical doctor Joe Robertson) to complain about it. Dr. Robertson calls the owner of the local factory, and Joe shows up at the factory Monday morning to learn that he no longer has a job. I perceived the existence of this shadow network all the way up until my senior year in high school when they shut down the teen coffee shop that I helped establish in town during my senior year in high school. To this day, I do not know precisely by whom or how the shutdown occurred. Some sort of dark background force intervened, it was no longer there, and those of us who were involved were told little or nothing about it.

    So, yes. From personal experience, I would say that these Citizen Councils did exist and did operate in the fashion that TFN describes.

  2. P.S. I would also say this about these Citizen Councils. Why would they be interested in shutting down a teen coffee house?

    As every closet racist in America knows, it was perceived as being dangerous for a white person to do anything legally with black people by around 1970. My racist uncle who ran a business in a nearby city had a black employee who nipped liquor out of the stash in her purse throughout the day at work. My uncle claimed that he wanted to get rid of her, but he perceived that any attempt to fire her would immediately have him on trial rather than her—not just in the courts but in the newspaper—and in the end he would be the one who lost his job. In his mind, the civil rights movement had imbued black people with personal legal power and protection that extended far beyond the limits of protection that would have been afforded a Chinese, Anglo, or Native American. Quite literally, in his mind, black people were suddenly 20 feet tall. It frightened him too. Why?

    He once said this to me, “We must make sure black people are never able to gain positions of authority in this country. Considering how badly we whites have treated their people, they would be justified in killing every white person in America as our punishment—and they would be right to do it. I know this. If our white people had been the slaves to them and they had treated us white people they way we treated them, I know that we would kill every last one of them. Therefore, I have every reason to believe that they would do the same thing to us.”

    REALITY: I worked in the same business and knew the black lady in question. In fact, she was a friend of mine. She was probably an alcoholic and did indeed nip from her bottle occasionally during the day. However, she was quite modest and discreet about it, and it never really interfered with her job duties. She was not 20 feet tall. She was a poor person with a lot of family problems, and the job did not pay very much. If she had lost it, she would have probably had a hard time getting another job, and matters in her life would have gotten much worse. Certainly, it was wrong to be drinking on the job, and I am not defending that at all. I am just saying that one needs to consider other human matters before turning someone out into the cold.

    To the best of my knowledge, she never did lose that job and actually retired from it. Yes, my uncle was a racist. Yes, he did perceive that black people had been rendered legally untouchable. However, he was a Christian “OLD SOFTY” too. I remain convinced that she would have kept that job even if my uncle had perceived she was legally only 2 millimeters tall. He would have gladly seen Malcolm X dead, but if an orphaned black child came to his attention, he would have been the first in line to find that child a good home, buy him new clothes, etc. He was that kind of person too.

    Well, that was perhaps too much to relate, but many racists were not as kind as my uncle. They would have loved to have fired her but would not have dared to do so because she was perceived to be 20 feet tall under the new civil rights laws, and racists began to either hide their racism for their own protection or find “closet vehicles” for expressing it—like the Texas SBOE and Tea Party.

    Unable to openly continue their fight against the blacks and other minority groups that really threatened America, the local racists had to find a new domestic enemy. That was the 1960s to early 1970s hippie teenager with long hair. For those of you who do not go back very far in time, that was most teenagers (to one degree or another) during that period of time. What better way to strike out at the new enemy than find a way to shut down their coffee shop?