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Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour Criticized for Downplaying '60s Racial Tensions

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Gov. Haley Barbour took heat Monday for comments that appeared to minimize the racial tensions of the civil rights movement and praise segregationist organizations in 1960s Mississippi.

Barbour, whose name has been mentioned as a possible Republican candidate for president in two years, was interviewed for a lengthy profile in the the Weekly Standard.

"I just don't remember it as being that bad," Barbour said of race relations during the early 1960s in his hometown of Yazoo City, Miss.

The two-term governor credited the relatively peaceful integration of schools in Yazoo City to Citizens Councils, all-white segregationist groups that formed in Mississippi in the mid-1950s. The main organization, originally known as the White Citizens' Council, was formed in protest of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that said public school segregation was unconstitutional.

"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," Barbour told the magazine. "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."

Barbour said he had hazy memories of a 1962 visit to Yazoo City by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"He spoke out at the old fairground and it was full of people, black and white," said Barbour, who was 15 at the time.

The governor said during King's speech, "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."

The remarks garnered criticism from liberal bloggers, the NAACP and Democratic officials.

"He's not ready for prime time or not ready for the 21st century," Democratic National Committee spokesman Hari Sevugan tweeted Monday. "Either way, it's disqualifying."

A Barbour spokesman, Dan Turner, told Talking Points Memo that the governor's critics were trying to portray the governor as a racist, but "nothing could be further from the truth."

"Tell me what in Gov. Barbour's past gives any indication of any racist leanings, and I'll be glad to address the question," Turner said. "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."

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You can't compare Yazoo City to lets say, Detroit or Watts. While in college I heard about the impending riots several weeks before they happened. I was weird not being able to go to school or my job because of the city wide curfew.

December 21 2010 at 3:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Barbour and I are the same age. In 1962 and at the age of 15 yrs, the civil rights movement had barely raised it's head in Mississippi. There was a big blip when RFK sent thousands of armed military (ever been riding down the streets of your home and be met by a half-track loaded with armed soldiers?) to show that, by god, he was the strongest and was going to put someone into a college rather than work it out peacefully. Then the civil rights lay dormant for a little while until the COFO workers came into Mississippi looking for a fight. If you weren't there then STFU because you don't know how belligerent those folks were. I was a 17 y/o pumping gas in a neighborhood grocery store and they would routinely insult me. Then, 1967, came, to me, my epiphany on that Saturday afternoon when I heard Stokely Carmichael exhort the young blacks in the crowd to go out into our small city and "put a black baby" in the "bellies" of all of thowse white women. You won't find one news story about that because the press was talking about how non-violent the march was supposed to be.

Didja' ever wonder why he left the march a few miles down the road and surfaced in Algeria as an avowed communist? Didja' ever wonder about that famous scene where the dogs were turned loose on the "kids"? They were't just protesting... they weren't just "kids"...they were adults who advocated violence and the idiots in charge in Mississippi let themselves be fooled into reacting with more force and violence than most anyone in Mississippi ever wanted.

In 1962 Mississippi, what Barbour said was true. But what happened over the years is an entirely different story to those who had to live in the midst of it.

December 21 2010 at 11:03 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

To my recollection Yazoo City made pretty peaceful transition from segregated to desegregated schools. I believe Haley Barbour was then mayor and my hat goes off to him.

Democrats would like America to forget which party was responsibe for segregation laws in the first place :)

Even today, the most racist parts of the south are still deeply entrenched Democrat. Uneducated whites vote Democrat for the same reasons uneducated blacks vote Democrat. They replaced their own self worth for a tit from the government and believe that the only way they can preserve their status quo is by voting Democrat.

December 21 2010 at 2:27 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply

As many people can still attest, including my hispanic family, racial hatred knew no political boundaries and was high on both sides of the political aisle, so no one has bragging rights on this issue.

December 20 2010 at 10:46 PM Report abuse -9 rate up rate down Reply

I grew up in Mississippi and was in high school until 1966 and then college for 2 years in Mississippi. As a young white male adult I was ashamed of my state's attitude toward anyone black, Jew, Catholic or gay....the landmark groups targeted by the KKK and the so-called Citizens ashamed that at the age of 20 I left the state to complete my educaiton outside the Deep South. Perhaps Mr. Barbour selectively attempts to forget that era with such inhumane acts as posting of armed guards with shotguns at the front doors of white churches to prevent blacks from attending services. I can't forget the inhumanity of one race against any who were another color or worshipped differently or were "different" in any way from the so-called leaders of that era.

December 20 2010 at 10:05 PM Report abuse +20 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Harvey's comment

Harvey, I'm a '65 Mississippi high school grad. If you say that you were so sensitized to the "state's attitude" that you would leave home and go somewhere else then I would say that you are one in a million. If you grew up in Mississippi you accepted as "normal" what had happened in the century before you. All of this touchy-feely garbage by a high school kid is b.s. Now, tell the truth, were you into your rebellious period and just wanted to go against "the powers that be" I will also tell you one more thing, if you were as vocal in your high school years as you want us to think you were, then you would, like I said, one in a million. My guess is that you left Misssissippi and you now want the folks to believe how liberal you've been you whole life. IOW, you are deluding others....not yourself

December 21 2010 at 10:39 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

For pity sakes ..! Who puts any stock in any thing a 15 yr old boy says, or doesn't say. Here the liberals are pushing the "race card" again, instead of being sensible. & something that happened years ago, to a 15 year old!

December 20 2010 at 9:33 PM Report abuse -25 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to sndmthru's comment

What he said ay the age of 63 is what concerns us more. It's not a liberal thing, just a stupid think.

December 20 2010 at 9:54 PM Report abuse +19 rate up rate down Reply

At that time and place no 15 year old white boy was talking to girls and being "cool" when Martin King was giving a speech. You can bet your last dollar the white folks wouldn't let their daughters near the scene either!

December 20 2010 at 10:08 PM Report abuse +18 rate up rate down Reply

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