• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

Haley Barbour Stupidly Reopens An Old Wound

As I noted yesterday, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who may or may not be running for President in 2012, raised more than a few eyebrows when he said that the Civil Rights Era in Mississippi wasn’t that bad (an observation which seemed rather obvious considering he was speaking from the perspective of his middle class, white upbringing), but it turns out it’s actually worse than that:

In an interview that set off a new round of debate on Monday about racial attitudes and politics, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, a potential Republican presidential candidate, recalled the 1960s civil rights struggle in his hometown, Yazoo City, saying, “I just don’t remember it as being that bad.”

In a profile published Monday in The Weekly Standard, Mr. Barbour also talked about the White Citizens’ Councils of the late 1960s, which opposed racial integration. Mr. Barbour, a teenager and young adult during the 1960s, said that in his town, they were a positive force, praising them as “an organization of town leaders” who refused to tolerate the racist attitudes of the Ku Klux Klan.

“In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan” would be “run out of town,” Mr. Barbour said. “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.”

The comments came as Mr. Barbour, 62, is actively considering a bid for the White House, and the governor’s political opponents and some civil rights groups quickly seized on the remarks.

Media Matters, a liberal organization, sent e-mail messages to reporters Monday urging coverage of the comments. Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi N.A.A.C.P., told The Huffington Post, “It’s beyond disturbing — it’s offensive that he would take that approach to the history of this state to many African-Americans who had to suffer as a result of the policies and practices of the Citizens Council.”

A spokesman for Mr. Barbour did not return calls and e-mail messages on Monday. Dan Turner, the governor’s press secretary, told Talking Points Memo, “You’re trying to paint the governor as a racist — and nothing could be further from the truth.” The Web site quoted Mr. Turner as saying: “There’s nothing in his past that shows that. If you pick out a sentence or a paragraph out of a fairly long article and harp on it, you can manipulate it.”

This isn’t the first time that Barbour has whitewashed the less-than-pleasant aspects of Southern history. Early this year, he said that it “didn’t mean diddly” that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell had omitted any reference to slavery from a proclamation he issued honoring Virginia’s controversial Confederate History Month, a mistake which McDonnell later corrected.

Just as he was wrong about the role of slavery in the secession crisis, Barbour’s effort to whitewash the history of Mississippi’s White Citizens Council’s is both historically wrong and politically stupid:

Robert Mickey, an associate political science professor at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, said that Barbour is correct in asserting that the Citizens Councils were often against Klan organizations forming in their communities. It wasn’t, however, to promote racial integration; instead, they were concerned that such groups would spoil the economic environment, and in turn, Citizens Councils used economic intimidation to further segregation.

“This was an organization that spread very quickly across the South, directly in response to Brown v. Board of Education,” said Mickey in an interview with The Huffington Post Monday. “Usually they were against violence because of its harm to economic development; firms wouldn’t want to relocate to places that had a lot of violence. So their tools of slowing down the South’s democratization was to use economic intimidation. … They intimidated black parents from signing petitions demanding that school districts be desegregated, sometimes by printing the signatories in local newspapers, which oftentimes led to the signatures being recanted because the parents understood and feared the consequences of being publicly outed like that. So Barbour’s right — on one hand, they often helped out on the Klan, and a lot of times they were interested in deterring white mob violence. But Northerners are right that it’s like the Klan.”

And if Barbour had been paying attention to what was going on around him in Yazoo City as a teenager, he would have noticed that the White Citizens Council was anything but a benign organization:

Joseph Crespino, an associate professor of history at Emory University, also noted a particular incident in Yazoo City undermining Barbour’s claims. “One of the things the Citizens Council would do is carry out economic harassment — sometimes physical intimidation — against local blacks,” he said. “There was this well-known incident in Yazoo City in the 1950s where a handful of black parents tried to file a lawsuit against a local public school. They lost their jobs because they filed a lawsuit and they participated in the local civil rights movement. So it’s well-documented that the kind of harassment that blacks faced when they tried to desegregate the schools there in Yazoo City.”

Or, perhaps, as Matthew Yglesias notes, Barbour might have remembered some of the pamphlets the WCC used to pass out:

Maybe your community has had no racial problems! This may be true; however, you may not have a fire, yet you maintain a fire department. You can depend on one thing: The NAACP (National Association for the Agitation of Colored People), aided by alien influences, bloc vote seeking politicians and left-wing do-gooders, will see that you have a problem in the near future.

The Citizens’ Council is the South’s answer to the mongrelizers. We will not be integrated. We are proud of our white blood and our white heritage of sixty centuries.

There was nothing benign about these organizations and Barbour is a smart enough man that he should know that by now. I’m don’t think he’s a racist, but the Weekly Standard interview, which you can read for yourself, certainly reveals a blind spot on Barbour’s part, most likely a willful one brought one by the natural desire to want to remember only the good parts of your past.

The part I don’t understand about all of this are the politics. Quite honestly, stuff like this is unlikely to hurt him in the GOP primaries, especially the GOP primaries in the South. However, if Barbour really does want to run for President in 2012, reopening old racial wounds while running against the nation’s first African American President doesn’t strike me as the smartest thing in the world.

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Jay Tea says:

    Just a quick note: Barbour was born in 1947. He’s 63, not 62 (unless the interview took place before October 22 of this year).

    Which means that in the 1950′s, when most of these references occurred, Barbour wasn’t even a teenager. So is it any great surprise that, in his personal recollection, he doesn’t recall personally seeing or experiencing too many bad things?

    And, as noted elsewhere, Yazoo City DID integrate with little drama.

    Barbour didn’t say that the Councils were great — he said they were better than the Klan. He didn’t say that integration was wrong. He didn’t say that there weren’t problems or violence associated with the civil rights movement. He simply said that he personally didn’t see it, and that it was handled in his home town better than it was in other places.

    Sorry he didn’t break out the sackcloth and ashes.

    J.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. Jay Tea says:

    Oh, and the Halberstam article cited from Commentary Magazine on the Citizens Councils came out in 1956 — and was certainly reflective of the time. One wonders what eight-year-old Barbour thought of it.

    J.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. John P says:

    As a southerner and a Mississippian I’ve taken up the cause of the common southerner a time or two on OTB. I do believe that there is an overall misunderstanding about the current state of things here in the south. That misconception, I believe, is fueled by people who have largely never been to this part of the country or at least for any length of time. Just as there is a misconception by many who have never been to California that the state is filled with radical leftist bent on Europeanizing America. I’ve lived there for a good long time too and I can safely say that is not the norm either.

    However, I held my voice out of the post yesterday because I frankly believed Haley deserved a good ear boxing. While I think Jay Tea has a valid point and I also believe that Haley mixes truth with a romantic idea of a time gone by his statements are nevertheless a little tone deaf and that is his “crime” in this instance.

    He has been a solid executive for our state since he took office and I’ve heard little to nothing about racial tension under his administration. He has my respect for the time and care he put in after Katrina devastated the coast and the media essentially forgot that the eye of the hurricane struck Mississippi, not New Orleans.

    He’s been a good governor for Mississippi but Jackson is a long way from Washington and to borrow a phrase from the blue-blooded Barb “and I hope (he) stays there.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. tom p says:

    >”He didn’t say that there weren’t problems or violence associated with the civil rights movement. He simply said that he personally didn’t see it, ”

    Jay, I have to object. He didn’t see it? Was he blind? or just plain stupid?

    I was born in ’58 and raised in St Louis. Racism was everywhere you looked thru out the 60s and 70s.

    >”I do believe that there is an overall misunderstanding about the current state of things here in the south. ”

    John P: absolutely correct. In fact there are parts of MO that are far more racist than most of the south and St. Louis has been called “the most racist Northern city in the South” (or maybe it’s the other way around?) I don’t get up to St. Loo much these days and it may well have changed in the past 10 yrs, but it had a long way to go to measure up to Atlanta

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. anjin-san says:

    I grew up in California in the 60s, and racism, though probably less serious than in many parts of the country, was in plain sight, unless you happened to be under a rock.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. tps says:

    Didn’t Martin Luther King Jr say that he felt more in danger when he went to Chicago in ’66 then in the South?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. [...] to Doug Mataconis post, Haley Barbour Stupidly Reopens An Old Wound (not to mention the broader blogospheric reaction to Barbour’s comments), let me say a few [...]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. michael reynolds says:

    This isn’t a problem for Barbour as Jay Tea demonstrates. This was deliberate.

    Create a controversy, manage to play victim to liberals and the NAACP, earn the affection of racists and their apologists — which is to say most of the GOP.

    Put it in context. Right now the racist and apologists vote is with Palin. Palin is taking fire from various conservatives because she’s an unelectable ninny. So Barbour deliberately draws fire. His message? Look, the liberals hate me, too! Look, I can be your race victim, too!

    Barbour isn’t worried about the general yet. He has to knock off Palin and Huckabee for the resentful white folks bloc. Then he can worry about the general.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. Jay Tea says:

    tom p., let me put this in perspective: at the time period discussed, Barbour was about the same age as Barack Obama was when William Ayers was building bombs to use against the U. S. government and plotting to kill American servicemen and their dates.

    I wasn’t overly racially or politically aware at the age of 8 — albeit in New Hampshire. I find it plausible that Barbour wasn’t, either.

    “RAAAAACIST!!!!!!!!” has lost so much of its power as an epithet. It’s been so diluted and overused, that it has very little of its clout as a “big-gun” accusation.

    In other words, the left’s Race Card — Don’t Leave Home Without It! — has been maxed out, and is being declined everywhere.

    J.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Jay Tea says:

    …and while I’m typing my above response, Michael goes and gives a textbook example of what I’m talking about.

    The single largest group of people who care about race now are those who yearn for the days when they could tag their opponents with it and destroy them. The vast majority of the middle and the right simply don’t care any more, and find those who obsess over it laughable, contemptible, or both.

    Personally, I’ve been called a racist by quite a few people for the things I’ve written. I wear it as a badge of honor.

    When I bother to even acknowledge it. Most of the time, I just ignore it, as the charge — and the charger — aren’t worth the time and energy to refute.

    J.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. Wayne says:

    St Louis and California are not the same place as Yazoo City. It is very possible that people experience a good deal of racism there while Barbour didn’t in his home town.

    I moved around a good deal and travel a good deal. Different cities in the same state had very distinct differences. IMO the MSM misrepresents the degree of racism in the “South”. I have seen as much if not more racism in the “North States” as I have the Southern. The deal with the South is they usually more honest about it. Many in the North and West Coast will say one thing and do another.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. michael reynolds says:

    Jay:

    No, the single largest group who still care about race are probably African-Americans who still suffer discrimination. Followed by guys like you who want to pretend that guys like you don’t exist.

    Your age-apology on behalf of Barbour is bullshit. I was born in 1954, so I’m younger than Barbour. I was in 6th grade in the panhandle of Florida and well aware of racism. Possibly it was the segregated schools at which my mom volunteered. Or maybe it was the threat we got from the Ku Klux Klan for same. And our subsequent invitation to leave the place we were living for having black people over to the house.

    Sorry if my actual southern experience conflicts with your New Hampshire speculation. But as always, while you are entitled to your own opinion, you are not untitled to your own facts.

    The Councils were racist. Period. Everyone alive then knows what they were. And Barbour has a record of overtly racist statements earlier in his career. He’s putting this out there as bait for smug little nitwits who are utterly ignorant of history. You know: you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. TG Chicago says:

    This seems like an intentional political move by Barbour for short-term gain. He riles up the left, knowing that the right will rally around him, thus garnering more support for the GOP nomination.

    And all it costs him is re-opening racial rifts and a guaranteed loss of moderates in the general election! Great move, Gov. Barbour!

    Do any Republicans actually want to win the presidency, or do they just want to win the GOP nomination?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. TG Chicago says:

    @Jay Tea: Nobody blames Barbour for his lack of understanding at age 8; the problem arises from his attempt to re-write history at age 63.

    The point isn’t that people expected Barbour to be participating in sit-ins as a child. The point is that it’s 2010, and he’s a grown-ass man, but his awareness of the history of the civil rights era still seems to be at the 8-year-old level.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. mantis says:

    I love it when one of the whitest people in the whitest state in the country lectures people on attitudes in the South fifty odd years ago.

    Not only that, but Jay’s assumption that a sixty year old politician knows nothing about the history of the area he has lived all his life apart from what Jay assumes he saw as a child, is ridiculously stupid.

    And, of course, he just lies about what Barbour said:

    Barbour didn’t say that the Councils were great

    Actually, he praised the city council in his town, which James has pointed out was pretty damned awful.

    He didn’t say that there weren’t problems or violence associated with the civil rights movement.

    Actually, he said it wasn’t bad where he lived. It was.

    People object, rightly so, to Barbour’s long history of whitewashing and dismissing the racism and oppression of blacks in the South. That he did not say the exact words that you came up with after the fact does not change the fact that he does this, a lot.

    But thank you for your steadfast defense of whitewashing the history of southern racism, Jay. We know you do these kinds of things because you think it pisses off liberals, which is the most important thing in life.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. anjin-san says:

    > William Ayers was building bombs to use against the U. S. government and plotting to kill American servicemen and their dates.

    Once upon a time, Menachem Begin was a terrorist with a price placed on his head – wanted “dead or alive” by our British allies. Years later, President Reagan honored him at the White House. So if you are going to trot out the rather tired “palling around with terrorists” thing, let’s keep it in some perspective.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. anjin-san says:

    > The deal with the South is they usually more honest about it.

    Well, yea. Back when Barbour was growing up, they would say, “let’s go lynch us a ni_ger” while bravely hiding beneath hoods. Is that the honesty you are referring to?

    How many black churches were bombed in the north while they had children in them?

    This is not to minimize the problem of racism in California (or New England, for that matter) back when I was growing up. It was very real, and very serious. And I was well aware of it when I was 8.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. tom p says:

    >”tom p., let me put this in perspective: at the time period discussed, ”

    Jay, let me put this in perspective…

    In 1963 (at the age of 5) my mother caught me yelling, “NI**ER!” at the garbage man and laid my ass out…

    In 1974 (I was 16) I got caught in the middle of a race riot when they were desegregating our schools…

    in 1985 (I was 27) somebody burned a cross in my front yard because my upstairs neighbor was black…

    These are just 3 of the racial lowlites of a a life in St.Louis (there were many hundreds more) If you want to stick to Barbours fantasy that 1950′s-60′s Mississippi was better than 60′s-70s-80s MO… I just don’t know what to say.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. TG Chicago says:

    Cynic’s further thought’s on the Citizen’s Council of Yazoo City:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/12/barbour-mistakes-black-for-white/68328/

    Short version: some black people were upset that the disparity in public school spending on white and black children was nearly 100 to 1. The Citizen’s Council printed the names and addresses of all the complaining black people in the paper, and instructed townspeople to refuse to hire them, rent to them, or sell to them.

    The Citizen’s Council’s discouragement of the Klan was much milder. No Klan members were targeted or run out of town, like the black citizens were.

    But in Barbour’s world, that’s “not that bad”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. steve says:

    “In other words, the left’s Race Card — Don’t Leave Home Without It! — has been maxed out, and is being declined everywhere.”

    Not a matter of a race card. If he believes what he said, he is stupid. Unobservant also. Does not really matter anyway. I believe the above commenters are correct that he just wanted to draw fire from the left. The base do not care if what he says is right or wrong or racist, as long as it makes some lefty mad.

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. anjin-san says:

    > I wasn’t overly racially or politically aware at the age of 8 — albeit in New Hampshire. I find it plausible that Barbour wasn’t, either.

    So here we have two dense kids who grow up to be Republicans. What are the chances?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. TG Chicago hits the nail right on the head:

    Nobody blames Barbour for his lack of understanding at age 8; the problem arises from his attempt to re-write history at age 63.

    The point isn’t that people expected Barbour to be participating in sit-ins as a child. The point is that it’s 2010, and he’s a grown-ass man, but his awareness of the history of the civil rights era still seems to be at the 8-year-old level.

    This is precisely the issue (and at least in part what I was trying to get at here.

    Any discussion or defense of what Barbour said as simply recollections of what he remembers as child ignores that a) he is a grown man, and b) he is governor of the state of which he is speaking.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. An Interested Party says:

    “Barbour didn’t say that the Councils were great — he said they were better than the Klan.”

    This is supposed to be a reasonable defense? Being beaten is better than being lynched, but no one wants either thing to happen to him/her…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. [...] 2012) put his foot in his mouth in an interview with the Weekly Standard.  My OTB colleague, Doug Mataconis, commented on the interview here and noted Barbour’s clarification on his statements [...]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0