Before the Anti-CRT Activists, there were White Citizens’ CouncilsRoundup
tags: Jim Crow, censorship, teaching history, critical race theory, White Citizens Councils
David A. Love is a faculty member in journalism and media studies at the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information, and a writer based in Philadelphia. He writes on race, politics and justice issues.
Republican lawmakers love to quote the words of Martin Luther King Jr. as they craft legislation banning the teaching of slavery and racism in U.S. history, anti-racism curriculums and even programs that promote diversity and inclusion. They note that King envisioned an America that judges people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin — even as they move simultaneously to prohibit King’s actual teachings and philosophies, while also advancing race-based voter suppression laws that disenfranchise Black voters, other voters of color and Democratic constituencies.
The boogeyman is critical race theory — a body of legal scholarship covering how race governs law and society — and it has become a catchall phrase encapsulating resistance to a changing America and efforts to preserve white rule.
This reactionary war on CRT reveals conservative angst over multiracial democracy, demographic shifts and heightened national awareness of racial injustice and inequities. Painting the study of civil rights and race as Marxist, racist, divisive and harmful to White children, a White resistance movement of politicians, funders and organizations reveals its fear of losing power. It is a coordinated and planned attack funded by wealthy conservative donors and waged by right-wing think tanks.
The goal? Criminalizing and scapegoating anti-racism advocates and educators. If successful, this push would erase Black people from history and retain Whiteness as the predominant cultural narrative in America. We know this because it has happened before. During the 1950s and 1960s, segregationists did the same as they railed against civil rights by forming a massive resistance to racial integration. They organized through pressure, intimidation, violence and police action to preserve Jim Crow laws and maintain white supremacy.
Today’s anti-CRT campaign builds on the legacy of White Citizens’ Councils. This “white-collar Klan” or “uptown Klan” formed after the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which made segregated public education unconstitutional. These councils consisted of business and civic leaders who distinguished themselves from the more violent rhetoric of the Klan, while sharing their ideas.
WCCs regarded integration as a threat to the Southern way of life. “Integration represents darkness, regimentation, totalitarianism, communism and destruction,” said Robert Patterson, founder of the first White Citizens’ Council in Indianola, Miss., in 1956. “Segregation represents the freedom to choose one’s associates, Americanism, State sovereignty and the survival of the white race. These two ideologies are now engaged in mortal conflict and only one can survive.”
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