Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #3: The Citizens Council

“About this time the Citizens Council had been organized in Indianola and quickly spread throughout the state. At first we did not pay much attention to the organization and little realized the role theywould play in the years to come. The Citizens Council was not like the Ku Klux Klan. Its members did not advocate violence but had as their goal a strong fight against any form of integration. It was made up of bankers, businessmen, lawyers and most of the town’s leaders, and in many ways they had more influence on people’s feelings and attitudes than did the Klan.

“The Klan was made up more of rednecks and working class people who were very secretive about their activities. The Citizens Council went about their work quietly and behind the scenes by putting pressure on local citizens to go along with their way of thinking. It was more or less expected of us to pay our $5 yearly dues to the Citizens Council and to stand behind them. Our neighbor, Hite McLean, who was quite active in the Council and a strong segregationist, talked me into being the publicity chairman one year, though there was precious little publicity to put out.

“The [redacted local bank] had a Council leader as a director and the employees knew they were expected to become members. Bill Richardson, whose mother, Mrs. Sumter Gillespie, had married the owner of the Commonwealth, said that at one point the presidents of the three banks called his mother in and told her that if the paper took any stand they did not agree with on the civil rights issue, they would not advertise again in the newspaper. Perhaps this was one reason that later on during all the racial strife the paper did not run any editorials to try to improve the situation or sometimes even to cover a racial disturbance.”

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About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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