After a humbling media parade last year, Haley Barbour attended a dinner honoring Freedom Riders on Sunday. "We apologize to you for your mistreatment in 1961, and we appreciate this chance for atonement and reconciliation," Barbour told a crowd at a Jackson hotel that included participants in the historic protest. In and of itself, the apology smacks of atonement for Barbour's own transgressions in December when the Mississippi governor reflected on segregation. "I just don't remember it being that bad," The Weekly Standard quoted Barbour saying in a much-talked-about profile. The Associated Press is careful to point out that Barbour provided the press with a full transcript of his apology to Freedom Riders.
Despite a slip-up or two, Barbour's tone is markedly different since December's bombshell profile that also quoted him lauding a segregationist group. Days after entering the spotlight for his offensive remarks discounting the Civil Rights Movement, Barbour freed the supposedly wrongly convicted Gladys and Jamie Scott due to medical circumstances. The two sisters had served 16 years of dual life sentences for stealing $11 in 1994. Dave Weigel called the action "quite the gesture to black voters" and "a unique way for a potential presidential candidate to use clemency without looking soft on crime." Barbour announced in April that he would in fact not run for president and stopped short of pardoning the two in his speech Sunday.
Nevertheless, Barbour's pivot directs more attention to the brave group of white and black protesters who travelled across the South to protest segregation laws fifty years ago, and he's not the only one making an effort. In an attempt to "bring the past into the future" Washington Post contributor and Jezebel's founding editor Anna Holmes has been changing her Twitter avatar weekly to highlight each of the 31 protesters who participated in the Freedom Rides. Inspired by Eric Etheridge's book about the Freedom Rides, Breach of Peace, Holmes' project aims to highlight the diversity of the participants. "The book underscores what younger people don’t know: how diverse this movement was, how the riders weren’t just African Americans, they were white, they were Jewish, they were from all different classes," Holmes told the Wall Street Journal. Her latest avatar is Alexander Weiss, a Holocaust survivor. A quote from Weiss tweeted earlier today seems prescient vis-á-vis Barbour's change of tone.
"That whole idea—if you see evil and do nothing about it you are a participant in it—I really believed that."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.