Mississippi Gov Haley Barbour Lauds Segregationist Group

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Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour's profile in the Weekly Standard is getting a lot of attention for Barbour's commentary on the civil rights movement. Born in 1947, Barbour grew up amid the civil rights struggle that has come to define much of Mississippi's twentieth century history. So it has struck many political writers as bizarre that Barbour insists the period was largely uneventful. "I just don't remember it as being that bad."

Barbour is also drawing criticism for his praise of a group called the Citizens Council (previously known as the White Citizens Council), the local chapter of which Barbour says helped to curb racial tension in his hometown. The Citizens Council is typically described as a Southern white supremacist group.

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.

In 1998, American Conservative Union head David Keene barred the Citizens Council's modern incarnation, the Council of Conservative Citizens, from the annual CPAC conference: "we kicked [them] out of CPAC because they are racists."

  • Doesn't Look Good for Barbour  Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall dubs Barbour "not so ready for prime time," noting that "folks like [conservative leader David] Keene won't have anything to do with the cleaned up, scrubbed down version of the [Citizens Council]. But Barbour thinks the genuine article operating as the rearguard during the Civil Rights Era was just great." Matthews Yglesias makes the case that the Citizens Council in Barbour's hometown was a white supremacist group.
  • The Pitfalls of Race for Old Southern Conservatives  "Race is a hard issue for older conservative politicians from the Deep South seeking national office," Politico's Ben Smith explains. "The roots of Southern Republicanism are in the segregationist split from the Democratic Party, and so there's no presumption of innocence, and no second chance, as Trent Lott learned. A new generation of politicians is simply too young to be pinned to the issue, but Haley Barbour is right on the line."
  • Weekly Standard Defends Barbour  "What role Yazoo City's segregationist past might play in Barbour’s presidential campaign is hard to say," The Weekly Standard's Andrew Ferguson writes as part of his profile of Barbour. "It could become an issue, particularly for Washington political reporters who enjoy moralizing about race and public education while sending their own children to progressive schools like Sidwell Friends and St. Albans, where applicants of color are discreetly screened and their numbers carefully regulated."
  • Barbour Positioning for 2012 Presidential Run?  The Hill's Jordan Fabian sees groundwork being laid. "Barbour, who has been mentioned as a potential 2012 presidential candidate, was widely praised for his term as chairman of the Republican Governors Association this past election cycle. The GOP picked up six governors seats and, with them, the control of the majority of the country's governors mansions. The former Republican National Committee chairman was also praised for his fundraising prowess."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.