Hey, Dallas Citizens Council, Would You Even Consider a Name Change?

Clint McDonnough is chairman of the Dallas office and a managing partner in an accounting firm that was known since 1903 as Ernst and Ernst, since 1989 as Ernst and Young, now calling itself  "EY," which I thought was the name of a character in an A.A. Milne children’s book I never read, but over the course of my life people often have called me that.

But that’s Eeyore. I think it means handsome and daring. Anyway, Ernst and Young changed its moniker to EY a couple years ago because … Internet.

I just mention it to show that there are many reasons beyond avoiding debt collection that reputable companies and institutions change their names sometimes.

I have met McDonnough, and he’s a cool guy with a sharp sense of humor. He is also chairman of the Dallas Citizens Council. I also have run into Alice Murray, who is president of the Citizens Council, and she’s really smart and comes from a kind of unconventional but very interesting career path.

The Dallas Citizens Council, a private business group formed in 1937, has never changed its name. Created a quarter century before the White Citizens Councils that sprang up across the South in the 1960s, it was never linked or allied with their efforts to combat racial integration. 

But it’s got this name. The Citizens Council. And, if anything, the Dallas Citizens Council has always displayed a certain insouciance or dismissiveness about the name, sort of like: “That’s the name. You got a problem?”

Well. Yes. C’mon. How could anyone not know that the name, Citizens Council, is a problem? Please be real.

About two years ago a young activist in national education reform circles came through town, and he and I rode around and looked at southern Dallas together. He happened to be the scion of a famous civil rights movement family, but I gathered that in his convictions on school reform he had moved rightward somewhat or at least rightishly. Like me.

At the end of our little tour, we were just shooting the breeze in the car. He smirked and said a little sheepishly, “People where I live (DC) believe some crazy stuff about Dallas. Before I came down here, some guy was trying to tell me there’s still a private behind-the-scenes group in Dallas that calls itself, ‘The Citizens Council,’ but I assume that’s urban legend.”

I am very sensitive to these moments in conversations with people who are visiting Dallas for the first time. I think I mentioned this in another column recently. If you answer one of these questions the wrong way, you get one of two reactions: 1) “Ha-ha, (punch on the shoulder), what a kidder,” or, 2) "Oh, sorry, I just remembered I have to go to the airport right now."

So I did not essay the full and truthful answer, which would have been, “It’s not an urban legend. It is still called The Dallas Citizens Council. Yes, they have roots in the city’s very conservative past. But they include black and Latino members now, and, anyway, it was always about civic boosterism, not race.”

Why did I not attempt the full answer? Because it’s not my job. I didn’t make them keep that name into the 21st century. And I know from experience what reception you get if you sound like you’re defending this stuff to outsiders. You get the “You’re-one-of-them” look. You might as well say, “Owuh culluhed peepul are vaira vaira happuh heeyuh.” And then do the airport skedaddle.

So I said, “Urban legends are so crazy, aren’t they?” (I consider myself part of the conspiracy now.)

A ton of stuff about the White Citizens Councils is available online including a piece by Euan Hague at DePaul University about their national newspaper, The Citizens Council, a purveyor of racist obscenity and hate speech. Hague recounts that the White Citizens Councils, most of which were just called “Citizens Council” without the “White,” realized at a certain point in time that their name was poison, so they reconstituted themselves as the Council of Conservative Citizens.

The CCC is still alive and active, listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a problem. The center, which monitors hate groups across the country, says on its web page, “The Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) is the modern reincarnation of the old White Citizens Councils, which were formed in the 1950s and 1960s to battle school desegregation in the South. Created in 1985 from the mailing lists of its predecessor organization, the CCC has evolved into a crudely white supremacist group.”

The CCC was in the national news a month ago following the Charleston church massacre. Confessed shooter 21-year-old Dylann Roof credited CCC President Earl Holt, 62, of East Texas, with influencing him. Stories at the time pointed out that Holt is a financial contributor to conservative Texas politicians including U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and Governor Greg Abbott. 

It’s not like this stuff is over. It’s not like it’s far away.

The Dallas Citizens Council has every right to protest that associations made between it and the White Citizens Councils of the 1960s are unfair and inaccurate. But the Dallas Citizens Council also has to realize that those associations will be made anyway, and the Dallas Citizens Council won’t often be on hand to rebut them.

Hey, Ernst and Young did it. In fact, even the White Citizens Councils did it. At a certain point in time the reluctance of the Dallas Citizens Council to change its name begins to look like stubbornness. And, oh, rich powerful people in Dallas: they could never be stubborn could they?

How about DalCit? DC? One of those corporate made-up-word names, like DECISIVOR? CitDalIco? Jeez, just about anything but Dallas Citizens Council. Give it a rest. 
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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze