He’s said he’s months away from deciding whether or not to run for president, but for Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, the campaign for the Southern conservative vote seems to already have begun. In an interview with the Weekly Standard, Barbour explains how racial harmony existed in his hometown of Yazoo City due to the enlightened influence of … the local Citizens’ Council.
Both Mr. Mott and Mr. Kelly had told me that Yazoo City was perhaps the only municipality in Mississippi that managed to integrate the schools without violence. I asked Haley Barbour why he thought that was so.
“Because the business community wouldn’t stand for it,” he said. “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.”
Yes, “up north” we think Citizens’ Councils were like the KKK because in many ways, they were. They didn’t go around burning crosses and lynching people, sure, but they were white supremacists whose mission was fighting racial integration. The Yazoo City chapter in particular was no different, despite Barbour’s recollections. Think Progress’s Matt Yglesias digs up a book passage detailing how the Yazoo City Citizens’ Council pressured businesses that employed signatories of an NAACP desegregation petition.
So, what to make of all this. One interpretation would be that Barbour just got confused, his memory is faulty. Of course he knows that the Citizens’ Councils were racist, he just misspoke. That would be naïve, though. More likely than not, Barbour is trying to communicate to anyone who just doesn’t think the South was “that bad” that he is their champion. If you’re so tired of being vilified for the evils of former generations that you’ve already begun to rewrite history in your head, you know who to vote for.
The Boy from Yazoo City [Weekly Standard]
Yazoo City Citizens’ Council Was a White Supremacist Organization [Think Progress]