As Adam notes, if Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour decides to run for president, he’ll come with a lot of baggage. Some of it will be of his own making. A few Barbour’s comments in the story Adam cites – a profile of Barbour in the Weekly Standard by Andrew Ferguson – are coming back to bite him.
Both Mr. Mott and Mr. Kelly had told me 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. “I remember Martin Luther King came to town, in ’62. He spoke out at the old fairground and it was full of people, black and white.”
Did you go? I asked.
“Sure, I was there with some of my friends.”
I asked him why he went out.
“We wanted to hear him speak.”
I asked what King had said that day.
“I don’t really remember. The truth is, we couldn’t hear very well. We were sort of out there on the periphery. We just sat on our cars, watching the girls, talking, doing what boys do. We paid more attention to the girls than to King.”
Not “that bad”? Is Barbour downplaying the struggle for civil rights in Mississippi? Liberal bloggers have also taken Barbour to task for downplaying the Citizens Councils, which were actively opposing desegregation in a town where the process went relatively smoothly. Dan Turner, Barbour’s spokesman, told Talking Points Memo that Barbour is not “racist. Nothing could be further from the truth… Gov. Barbour did not comment on the Citizens Council movement’s history. He commented on the business community in Yazoo City, Mississippi.”
Meanwhile, TPM, Slate and other blogs are now investigating Barbour’s history with the group’s modern iteration, Conservative Councils. Barbour is surely keenly aware of what happened to his fellow Mississippian, Trent Lott. In 2002 the then Senate majority leader said the U.S. would have avoided “all these problems” if then-segregationist Strom Thurmond had been elected President in 1948. Lott apologized but the furor eventually forced him from his leadership position.