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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

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Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Passing of William J. Simmons

I was thinking about William J. Simmons not long ago and wondering if he was still living.

Medford Evans (father of M. Stanton Evans) was another leader in the Citizens Councils. Medford Evans spoke at Mississippi College when I was a student there, but I don't remember what he talked about. I recall once seeing him-- he had the demeanor of an undertaker-- coming out of the Jackson Municipal Library with a big stack of books under his arm. (The library was then located at the corner of Yazoo and State streets, across from the present Eudora Welty Library.) Evans was once a college professor in Louisiana but lost his job because of his racial ideas.

I remember when Simmons announced that the Citizens Councils were disbanding and he was going to run a bed and breakfast inn full time. He had a little controversy a few years ago when he wanted to expand the parking space for his inn, which was located in a residential area near Millsaps College.

The Citizens Councils established a group of white-only schools, one of which was in a two-story building in the Fondren area of Jackson; it was on Downing Street just off State Street. I'm not sure what is in that building now, but I used to walk by there and see a sign that said "YANA." I was curious about what that meant, and I finally caught someone coming out of the building one evening and asked him. He said it was an organization that counseled alcoholics, and YANA stood for "You Are Not Alone." The building was later used for music lessons, and an assistant state attorney general, Giles Bryant, was mugged and murdered while he was waiting out front there to pick up his children.

Another thing I remember about the Citizens Councils involved my friend Lawrence Abrams Sr., one of the owners of Cole's department store in Natchez. Mr. Abrams told me that the council pressured him to fire an older black man who had worked for him for a long time, but he refused to do so.

At any rate, I wonder if Simmons ever gave any in-depth interviews. It would be interesting to know whether he changed his views on race. (If memory serves, he had a cameo appearance in 'Eyes on the Prize,' the PBS documentary about the civil rights movement.)

The Associated Press | November 27, 2007

JACKSON, Miss. -- William James Simmons, a leader of the segregationist white Citizens Council in the 1950s and '60s, died at his home in Jackson. He was 91.

Simmons, who was born in Utica in 1916, died Saturday [Nov.24]. The cause of death was not made public. Funeral services were held Tuesday at First Presbyterian Church of Jackson.

Simmons served as executive director of the statewide organization of the Citizens Council from 1954 to 1967.

The Citizens Council was created in 1954 in response to Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said segregated schools were unconstitutional. Hodding Carter, a newspaper owner in the Mississippi Delta, described the Citizens Council at the time as an "uptown Klan."

The council operated white-only schools and worked closely with the Sovereignty Commission, a state spy agency, to spread rumors and misinformation about the civil rights movement.

Bill Minor, a journalist who has covered Mississippi politics since 1947, said the Citizens Council "would enlist businessmen, lawyers and doctors in towns throughout the state in a powerful alliance to...Read more>>>

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