The KKK was undoubtedly the most visible representation of Massive Resistance, but another group proved more powerful in its ability to recruit and pressure local and state leaders. In July 1954 in Indianola, Mississippi, white leaders formed the first Citizens' Council, and in the wake of the Brown v. Board decision, similar groups spread throughout the South. In Alabama the first Citizens' Council appeared in Selma, where members began a campaign to use political and economic power in the city to limit jobs, revoke credit, and deny mortgages to black residents openly critical of segregation. By 1956 Alabama's Citizens' Councils boasted a membership of eighty thousand. The organizations rejected the bombings and beatings that were the province of more radical reactionaries, instead focusing on political and economic opposition that targeted those African Americans who challenged white supremacy. The Councils were helped by well-placed members. As Alabama historian Wayne Flynt has noted, the group's leaders were Black Belt politicians, businessmen, and professionals, most notably Montgomery's Judge Walter B. Jones, whose writings became "a forum for segregationist ideology."
With over sixty chapters in Alabama alone, the Citizens' Councils proved very effective at inspiring fear with their message. In a 1956 speech to the Central Park Citizens' Council in Birmingham, Bull Connor told attendees, "If you don't register and vote [the NAACP is] going to outvote you." A strong white majority at the polls would "beat the NAACP so fast it won't be funny." Dallas County State Senator Walter C. Givhan told a Council meeting that the NAACP hoped "to open the bedroom door of our white women to the Negro." But even as the Citizens' Councils adopted much of the rhetoric of white supremacy, the groups' leaders rejected outright terror and physical violence. The statewide Council renounced Asa "Ace" Carter and his followers as "demagogic rabble rousers" and "prisoners of hate." The Councils claimed to be the "responsible" alternative to the KKK and welcomed only "respectable" members.
The Councils and the Klan adopted different approaches to the civil rights movement, yet both played an important part in white reaction to integration. Massive Resistance placed real pressure on white moderates, forced to find a middle ground between African American activists demanding political, economic, and social equality, and the white opposition, rejecting any hint of desegregation. As state and national leaders searched for compromise, the movement continued to evolve, coming to rely on visible, sometimes violent, resistance to bring national and international attention to the plight of blacks in the segregated South.