Barbour's Attempt To Whitewash Southern Racist History

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[Notes From The Capital]

In a recent article in the Weekly Standard entitled “The Boy from Yazoo City”, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican Governors Association “RGA”, and a potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate, waxed nostalgic about Citizens Councils and Yazoo City’s ability to integrate public schools in the 1970’s.

When asked how Yazoo City was able to integrate Barbour said, “Because the business community wouldn’t stand for it-- 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.”

Technically, Barbour is correct.  Citizens Councils were an organization of town leaders; they may well have passed anti-Klan resolutions, and there may not have been a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.  This in no way supports Barbour’s unstated premise that some how the Citizens Council in Yazoo City was racially tolerant when it came to integration, voting rights, or the Civil Rights Movement.

The racial sentiment in Yazoo City, MS was similar to that in other Mississippi Delta region cities such as: Money, where Emmett Till was murdered; Sumner, where Till’s accused murderers were acquitted; and Jackson, where Medgar Evers was assassinated. Barbour’s feeble attempt to salvage the lost cause of White Supremacy by revising history is a preemptive strike against those who will rightfully question his background if he decides to run for president.

For the record, according to the Thernstrom’s America in Black and White the first Citizens’ Councils of America chapter --initially the White Citizen’s Council-- was established in1954 in Indianola, MS in response to the Brown decision.  A pamphlet written by Mississippi Judge Tom Brady entitled Black Monday denounced the Brown decision and played to the “obsessive sexual fear” that integration triggered in the South.  Integrated schools were perceived to be a threat to White children and womanhood.

To combat this threat Brady proposed the formation of a new organization to resist racial change, less violent and more respectable than the Ku Klux Klan.  He thought this respectability would attract a broader following.  From this the grassroots organization was founded. What is important to note and contrary to Barbour’s romanticized account is, according to the Thernstrom’s, “The Councils were as committed to white supremacy as the KKK but less crude in their methods.”  Others such as the Montgomery Advertiser called them “manicured Ku Klux Klans”.

In his book, Away Down South historian James Cobb describes White Southern reaction to racial tensions after WW II, “…as battalions of hostile whites rallied to the Citizen’s Council, the Ku Klux Klan, and other less organized but no less menacing efforts to repulse northern “outside agitators” bent on destroying the “southern way of life.”’

In the same article Barbour describes the political mindset of his parents and his upbringing, “We were Eastland Democrats,” This is another very important point. James O. Eastland, the long-serving U.S. senator from MS was a committed segregationist.  According to noted King biographer Taylor Branch, as chairman of Judiciary committee, “James Eastland of Mississippi had killed all but one of the 121 civil rights measures over the past decade (1950s).  Barbour by his own admission was raised by segregationists.

Lest we forget, it was Barbour contemporary Trent Lott, former Senator from Mississippi who attempted to re-write the legacy of staunch segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC) by saying, the United States would have avoided "all these problems" if then-segregationist Strom Thurmond had been elected president in 1948. Lott was also a frequent speaker at meetings of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), once telling its members they "stand for the right principles and the right philosophy …" The CCC is the successor organization of the White Citizen’s Council.

Whether it’s Lott’s “all these problems”; Tancredo’s “we want our country back”; George Wallace’s, “And I'll tell you here and now, I will never be outniggered again,” his more infamous, “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever…”; Sarah Palin’s reported, “Excuse me, but I don’t mess with black men.”or her reported reference to Sen. Obama defeating Sen. Clinton, “So Sambo beat the bitch!”, Haley Barbour’s failed attempt to re-write history stems from the same bigoted white supremacist  ideology as the others and must be rejected as such.

As he attempts to position himself for a presidential run in 2012 or 2016, American’s must let Haley Barbour, the Tea Party, and other conservatives with similar ideology and sentiments know that there is no place in the American political discourse for such sentiment.  It’s up to those of us who know the history to publicly speak to and renounce those who attempt to distort it.  It’s “our-story” not his.

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon,” and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

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