Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Old Times There Have Been Forgotten

Haley Barbour, a political strategist, lobbyist, former head of the Republican National Committee, and now the governor of Mississippi, would like to run for president in 2012. In pursuit of that goal, he’s giving interviews to friendly media like The Weekly Standard. In the interview, he had fond memories of growing up in the recently desegregated South, what race relations were like, and what it was like with groups like the White Citizens Councils:

As Barbour recalls it in a new profile in The Weekly Standard, things weren’t so bad in his hometown of Yazoo City, which took until 1970 to integrate its schools (though the final event itself is said to have gone on peacefully). For example, Barbour says that there was no problem of Ku Klux Klan activity in the town — thanks to the Citizens Council movement, an organization that was founded on the basis of resistance to integration and the promotion of white supremacy.

“You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK,” said Barbour. “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.”

The White Citizens Council movement was founded in Mississippi in 1954, shortly after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregated public schools, and was dedicated to political activities opposing civil rights — notably boycotts of pro-civil rights individuals in Barbour’s hometown, as opposed to Barbour’s recollection of actions against the Klan. It was distinguished from the Klan by the public self-identification of its members, and its image of suits and ties as opposed to white robes and nooses.

Haley Barbour is not responsible for what other people did in his home town when he was a child or a teenager. But as an adult and possible presidential candidate, he doesn’t get to, um, whitewash the past. And to brush it off as no big deal now is being even more blind to the past and how deep the race issue runs in this country, both in Yazoo City and everywhere else.

And though it’s no fault of his own, it doesn’t help that Mr. Barbour comes off as a caricature of the good ole Southern politician.