Andrew Ferguson at The Weekly Standard:
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.”
Fortunately, it’s actually possible to look at the archives of the Citizens Council newspaper published right in Mississippi. Here’s a selection:
The Citizens’ Councils were, right in the state of Mississippi where Barbour is from, the respectable face of white supremacist political activism. Here’s an example from the Association of Citizens’ Councils pamphlet: “Why Does Your Community Need a Citizens’ Council?”
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.
Haley Barbour gives these people credit for keeping things calm!
From 1956, David Halberstam at Commentary:
In march of this year Congressman John Bell William told a Greenville, Mississippi, White Citizens Council, “I’d gladly trade all the Negroes in the country for my few good nigger friends.” Williams is no political scientist—he flunked out of the University of Mississippi law school in near record time—but on this occasion he did, if inadvertently, define the nature of the Citizens Council movement. Pull aside the curtain of States’ Rights and you find, more prominent than anything else, this desire to trade coat-and-tie Negroes for barefoot ones.
The White Citizens Councils, a loosely connected series of local groups which have arisen throughout the South in protest against the Supreme Court’s May 17, 1954 desegregation decision, undoubtedly constitute a very significant political phenomenon. Individually, the Councils can be either powerful or frail, at times the sincere expression of confusion and desperation, at other times the vehicle for personal frustration. But the single thread connecting all the Councils, strong and weak, is the determination not just to oppose integration in the public schools but to stop or at least postpone it. In most of the Deep South, where hostility to integration is nearly universal, it is this militancy and dedication that make the Council member stand out.
Despite occasional efforts by supporters to build the Councils up into a movement of broad conservatism, their only serious purpose is to fight the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Not only do they contest the NAACP’s desegregation suits, but they seek to cancel much else that the Negro has gained over the last half-century by keeping him out of the polling booth. The exact strength of the Councils is difficult to determine: in Mississippi, their cradle, 100,000 members are claimed, but sober estimates would run closer to 55,000. Yet nowhere in the Deep South is their strength to be scoffed at—it is a product of crisis and as more law suits are filed it will mount.
Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:
Just by way of background, in the last decade or so there’s been controversy about a group called the Council of Conservative Citizens, a successor group to Citizen’s Councils. In other words, the CCC group was an organizational attempt to cleanse the reputation of the earlier group or rather shed some of its more explicit connection to white supremacy and legal racial discrimination. But even those folks were and are so retrograde that the mainstream right would have nothing to do with them. David Keene, head of the American Conservative Union — sponsor of the annual CPAC conference — said almost a decade ago: “We kicked [them] out of CPAC because they are racists.”
So folks like Keene won’t have anything to do with the cleaned up, scrubbed down version of the group. But Barbour thinks the genuine article operating as the rearguard during the Civil Rights Era was just great.
There are a couple of things to chew on here.
First, both Barbour and Yglesias can be right. Based on the profile it’s clear that many people in Barbour’s home town (including his brother Jeppie, the then Mayor) held beliefs that simply were reprehensible about blacks but none the less managed to take a relatively benign course of action in integrating the community.
Were members of the Yazoo Citizens Council less than the shining examples Barbour holds them up as? Based on the examples Yglesias digs up, yeah. That’s not exactly a surprise given the time we’re talking about.
Does Barbour’s romanticized version of events fail to convey the whole picture and give some people more credit than they deserve? I’d say so. But that’s not exactly news either. The profile makes it clear these are people Barbour grew up around and admired. The fact that he cuts them slack the rest of us wouldn’t does not exactly shock me. It’s a pretty human reaction. Does this mean Barbour is a racist? Of course not. Does it mean Barbour supported segregation then or supports it now? Of course not.
So what does it prove? Nothing much as far as I can see. What it does is confirm something we already know…Democrats get a pass for their past and Republicans get nailed for the slightest variation from liberal dogma.
Obama skated by on Bill Ayers by saying he was a child when Ayers was bombing buildings and killing people. Of course Ayers past wasn’t the issue, it was his unapologetic defense of it and the wisdom of a presidential candidate associating himself with such a man in the present.
Barbour was 8 years old when the 1955 campaign to intimidate supporters of school integration Yglesias cites was conducted. What’s the relevance of that to Barbour or his memories of integration efforts in the 60’s?
If Barbour were associating with men who still believed in segregation or defended their role in opposing it back in the day (as Ayers does about his terrorist past and continued belief in violence as a political tool), I’d be the first to say he has a disqualifying problem. But that’s not the charge, is it?
Oh and if supporting segregation is disqualifying (and again no one is claiming Barbour did any such thing, then or now), then I’d like liberals to explain their on going love affair with Jimmy Carter.
As Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU’s Voting Project, relates in his book A Voting Rights Odyssey: Black Enfranchisement in Georgia, Carter’s board tried to stop the construction of a new “Elementary Negro School” in 1956. Local white citizens had complained that the school would be “too close” to a white school. As a result, “the children, both colored and white, would have to travel the same streets and roads in order to reach their respective schools.” The prospect of black and white children commingling on the streets on their way to school was apparently so horrible to Carter that he requested that the state school board stop construction of the black school until a new site could be found. The state board turned down Carter’s request because of “the staggering cost.” Carter and the rest of the Sumter County School Board then reassured parents at a meeting on October 5, 1956, that the board “would do everything in its power to minimize simultaneous traffic between white and colored students in route to and from school.”
It’s clear that this country still hasn’t fully dealt with the implications of the Civil Rights era or how to deal with the sides people took or didn’t take at the time. That’s only going to fully come about when the generations that lived through that era have all passed.
I get that it’s a complicated and emotional issue but I think we need some balance in how we deal with it. To simply and forever give Democrats who actively took part in it a pass, while smearing Republicans who only had tangential involvement (like a high school aged Haley Barbour) is simply unacceptable.
Now, all of that said…this is simply bad politics for Barbour. A lot of folks whose only notions of the south come from watching or reading To Kill a Mockingbird or popular history simply equate “southern” with “racism”.
The insinuation that Barbour is an apologist for racists (or worse) is a powerful one. People want to hear their own worldview reflected back at them by politicians. That’s why Obama is forced to pretend his incredibly strange childhood and background fits perfectly within the traditional American narrative. Barbour’s recollection of the south in the 60s will no doubt resonate with a lot of people who live there and know people they like and respect who did the best they could in difficult times. But for a lot of others it will sound like (pardon the phrase) whitewashing history. Personally, it strikes me as somewhere in between.
As a matter of pure politics, if Barbour does run for President (and you can tell the left is at least a little worried about that judged on the hits he’s taking today), he’s going to need to have a better spin on his take about this period in history. Because, as we see, it’s going to be brought up over and over again if he is nominated. Voters outside the south (think Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, even Florida) are going to want a better narrative than, “there were some good people who stood up for integration regardless of their feelings about blacks”.
Like I said, Barbour is not dumb. If he’s being a revisionist about race in Mississippi, he’s not alone, and he’s fighting back against a media standard that all conservatives hate — this idea that Southerners and conservatives can never stop atoning for Jim Crow. Why should he have to apologize for this, after all? He wasn’t in a Citizens Council. With the exception of some people, like Howell Raines — who covered Barbour’s 1986 Senate bid — how many of these reporters know what they’re talking about, anyway? And there are few things conservative voters hate more than being told they were on the wrong side of the Civil Rights movement.
Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up
Jonathan Chait at TNR
Eric Kleefeld at TPM:
I just spoke with Dan Turner, the official spokesman for Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS), who responded in strong terms to criticism of Barbour’s recent praise for the segregationist Citizens Council groups of the Civil Rights era.
“You’re trying to paint the governor as a racist,” he said. “And nothing could be further from the truth.”
So, I asked Turner, does Barbour have any comment on the Citizen Council movement’s basis in white supremacy, and its work of launching economic boycotts to cut off employment and business for African-Americans who became active for civil rights — including that notable occasion in Yazoo City?
“Gov. Barbour did not comment on the Citizens Council movement’s history,” Turner responded. “He commented on the business community in Yazoo City, Mississippi.”
I asked further about the Citizen Council movement’s white supremacist activities, such as the boycotts in Barbour’s hometown. “I’m not aware that that’s accurate,” Turner said. “I’m not aware that he [Barbour] has any statement on that. I’m aware of the statement that he made in context of how he made it.”
After being pressed further on whether Barbour’s comments about the Citizens Councils were accurate, Turner said: “I’m aware of what the governor said in this interview. I’m not gonna get into the business of trying to twist what the governor said, or to manipulate it.”
What does he mean by manipulate it, I asked?
“Your questions are very angular, let’s say that,” said Turner. “You have a very specific point that you’re trying to drive at, and you’re trying to paint the governor as a racist. And nothing could be further from the truth.”
I then responded that I was not asking about whether Barbour is a racist, but was asking about whether it is true or not that the group he praised was a racist organization?
“It was an organization in Yazoo City that was, you know, a group of the town leaders and business people,” Turner responded, then referring back to Barbour’s comment. “And they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. And that doesn’t sound like a racist to me. Does it to you?”
Turner then repeatedly asked me that question, whether the group in Yazoo City sounds racist from its anti-Klan policies. I responded again by asking about the same Yazoo City group that launched boycotts of African-Americans who sought civil rights.
Turner asked me a question right back. “Do you have any comment that throughout the history of America things have changed?” he said. “Do you have any comment that there were riots in Northern cities, as well as how there were problems in Southern cities?” Turner then pointed out that civil rights was an issue for the whole country, including places like Boston, and not just the South. And as he also added again, things have changed.
“Tell me what in Gov. Barbour’s past gives any indication of any racist leanings, and I’ll be glad to address the question,” said Turner. “Otherwise, it’s not a legitimate question. 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. And that sounds to me like what you’re trying to do.”
Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs:
It’s a trivial matter to show that the Citizens’ Councils were repellent white supremacist organizations, and their current incarnation, the Council of Conservative Citizens, is every bit as bad — if no longer as powerful.
And I don’t believe Turner doesn’t know this. How could he not know? It’s as if they just can’t help themselves.
The White Citizens’ Councils usually refrained from terrorizing and murdering black people like the Klan did, because they were businessmen. A permanent underclass of low-cost, low-maintenance servants and manual laborers was very valuable to them. So instead of killing African Americans, they just denied them education and opportunities.
Unless, of course, they happened to be wearing their Klan robes — because, contrary to Barbour’s whitewashed narrative, there was a lot of crossover between the CC and the KKK.
Amanda Terkel at The Huffington Post:
After facing intense criticism Monday over his comments about civil rights and the White Citizens Council, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) has released a follow-up statement condemning the segregationist group.
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.