The successor organization to the White Citizens' Council is the "Council of Conservative Citizens".
In Louisiana, leaders of the original citizens council included State Senator and gubernatorial candidate William Rainach, future U.S Representative Joe D. Waggonner, Jr., publisher Ned Touchstone, and Judge Leander Perez, considered the political boss of Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes south of New Orleans.
The formation of the WCC was partly a response to the assertive activities of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), a grass roots civil organization organized by Dr. T.R.M. Howard of the all-black town Mound Bayou, Mississippi in 1951. Mound Bayou was only forty miles from Indianola, Mississippi. Although as an adult Patterson was opposed to such groups, in boyhood in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Patterson was a friend of Aaron Henry, an official in the RCNL and the future head of the Mississippi National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Within a few months, the WCC had attracted members and new chapters developed beyond Mississippi into the rest of the Deep South. It often had the support of the leading citizens of many communities, including business, civic and sometimes religious leaders. Unlike the Democrat-dominatedKu Klux Klan, the WCC met openly and was seen by many as being "reputable"; in most communities there was little or no stigma associated with being a member of the WCC. Also unlike the Klan, its tactics did not often involve direct violence, or terrorism, but rather economic reprisal.
African Americans who were seen as being too supportive of desegregation, voting rights, or other perceived threats to whites' supremacy found themselves and their family members unemployed in many instances; whites who supported civil rights for African Americans were not immune from finding this happening to them as well. Members of the Citizens' Council were sometimes Klansmen, and the more influential the Citizens' Council member, the more influence he had with the Klan. In fact, the WCC was even referred to during the civil rights era as "an uptown Klan," "a white collar Klan," "a button-down Klan," and "a country club Klan." The rationale for these nicknames was that it appeared that sheets and hoods had been discarded and replaced by suits and ties. Much like the Klan, WCC members held documented white supremacist views and involved themselves in racist activities. They more often held leadership in civic and political organizations, however, which enabled them to legitimize discriminatory practices aimed at non-whites.
The movement grew as activism and Federal enforcement of racial desegregation became more intense, probably peaking in the early 1960s. Many small Southern towns put up signs at city limits that proclaimed "The White Citizens' Council of ______ Welcomes You".
As school desegregation increased, in some communities "council schools," sponsored by the WCC, were set up for white children. Derisively referred to by some as "segregation academies," some exist even today, although they have generally assumed other sponsorship and most have been forced to integrate, at least in theory, in order to maintain the tax-exempt status afforded to non-profit private schools, which is granted only to those which maintain a policy of racial and ethnic nondiscrimination.
By the 1970s as white Southerners began to accept desegregation as a permanent aspect of life, the influence of the WCCs began to wane. The attitude of most white Southerners changed as well. Also, the growing economic power of African Americans left few white businessowners willing to be openly associated with a racist organization. A few such groups still exist, their names changed to something similar to Conservative Citizens' Council, or member chapters of a kind of successor organization, the Council of Conservative Citizens. In recent years, Republican politicians U.S. Senator Trent Lott and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, among other conservative leaders, received some negative publicity for addressing one such group.
Lott has addressed the Conservative Citizens Council at least five times. According to his uncle, former state Senator Arnie Watson, "Trent is an honorary member" of what the Southern Poverty Law Center calls "the incarnation of the infamous White Citizens Councils," the white supremacist groups that attempted to resist desegregation during the 1950s and 1960s.