2012: Barbour Backtracks

21 Dec

By now, you’ve probably picked up on the story over the weekend that’s caused quite a stir regarding current Mississippi Gov. and would-be 2012 GOP presidential contender Haley Barbour. In a wide-ranging profile, the conservative Weekly Standard interviewer brings up the topic of race relations in Barbour’s hometown of Yazoo City, MS during the late 1950s/early 1960s, which led to either a terribly ignorant or purposely overlooked depiction of the segregationist Citizens Council organization and its local chapters that existed during that time, and the overall state of affairs in the state most consider the mecca of American racism. 

[Other interviewees concluded that] Yazoo City was perhaps the only municipality in Mississippi that managed to integrate the schools without violence. I asked Haley Barbour why he thought that was so. 

“Because the business community wouldn’t stand for it,” he said. “You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”

In interviews Barbour doesn’t have much to say about growing up in the midst of the civil rights revolution. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” he said.

Of course, that’s not exactly the case regarding the Citizens Council —

The White Citizens Council movement was founded in Mississippi in 1954, shortly after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregated public schools, and was dedicated to political activities opposing civil rights – notably boycotts of pro-civil rights individuals in Barbour’s hometown, as opposed to Barbour’s recollection of actions against the Klan. It was distinguished from the Klan by the public self-identification of its members, and its image of suits and ties as opposed to white robes and nooses.

— and I don’t think I have to tell you that things definitely still were that bad (for African-Americans, not privileged whites like Barbour) in Mississippi  during that time. No, I don’t have to tell you, but Max Brantley’s words this morning stuck with me enough that I’m going to let him tell you:

It interests me because Barbour is three years older than I am. It’s true, as he has been quoted, that times weren’t “that bad” for me, either. But I was white. Those “reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” signs still hanging in restaurants in my southern hometown then didn’t apply to me. The invitation-only high school Christmas dance included my name on the guest list because I was white. None was sent to a black student.

Maybe Yazoo City in enlightened Mississippi was farther advanced. (Noted: Ole Miss’ first black football player arrived in 1972, three years after Barbour would have graduated had he not dropped out; the Rebel flag and “Dixie” would persist for decades.) A handful of brave black kids received high school diplomas with my Louisiana class in 1968, but we were the only high school in the parish so progressive, thanks to a liberal city school superintendent.

That Haley Barbour sugarcoats those days tells you a little about him and a lot about what he perceives of attitudes in Mississippi and the country. It suggests: “What’s all the bitching about? Segregation is over. We’re all post-racial now. The 60s? It wasn’t all THAT bad. Get over it.” The Schwerners, Chaneys, Goodmans, Everses and Kings and many more might have different memories.

After the resulting firestorm caused by the Gov’s revisionist history, his spokesman Dan Turner went on offense, attacking the interviewer, the “angle of the questioning,” and attempting to say Barbour was actually trying to tell us something other than what we all just read. After that effort clearly fell flat, Team Barbour reassessed the damage and came out this morning with the following statement:

“When asked why my hometown in Mississippi did not suffer the same racial violence when I was a young man that accompanied other towns’ integration efforts, I accurately said the community leadership wouldn’t tolerate it and helped prevent violence there. My point was my town rejected the Ku Klux Klan, but nobody should construe that to mean I think the town leadership were saints, either. Their vehicle, called the ‘Citizens Council,’ is totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country, and especially African Americans who were persecuted in that time.”

For those that have followed Barbour over the years (or those of us who have read up on him in recent months in regards to Decision 2012 profiling), the type of attitude displayed here can’t be all that surprising. Is Barbour a racist? I don’t know the answer to that — only he could tell what truly rests in his heart. But I can tell you he’s proven to be the type that’s just not all that apologetic about his state’s ugly past when it comes to black/white race relations, which is unfortunate given his political stature and ability to influence others.

So, what does all of this mean in terms of the GOP presidential primaries in 2012? Well, I think it will serve as the cold shower to anyone trying to convince themselves ol’ Haley has a shot in hell come time to nominate Barack Obama’s next opponent. In fact, I’ve made it a point to never list him when talking about serious contenders like Palin, Huckabee, Romney, Gingrich, Thune, and others. The thought of the GOP seriously considering nominating an aging and bloated Mississippi good ol’ boy to be the person to defeat the first African-American president ever elected to office has always been beyond laughable to me. In fact, outside of that gal from Alaska, I can’ t think of anyone else being mentioned right now who could possibly fair worse in a match-up against the incumbent prez in two years.

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3 Responses to “2012: Barbour Backtracks”

  1. Skywalker December 21, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    Yep yep yep. He’d be a far worse GOP nom than Palin. Good analysis.

    Like

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