Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Haley Barbour Defends a White Supremacist Group

Mississippi's soil is soaking wet with the blood of hundreds of lynched black people.  Many nameless and faceless black bodies rest at the bottom of the Mississippi River.  Mississippi is where Emmett Till was beaten beyond recognition, "shot in the head and thrown in the Tallahatchie River with a 70 pound cotton gin tied around his neck." Mississippi is where civil rights leader Medger Evers was shot and killed by white supremacists. Mississippi is where civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered.  In his book The Autobiography of Medger Evers, Manning Marable writes:

"Between 1882 and 1927, 517 African Americans were lynched in the state of Mississippi, the highest number in the nation for any state during this period."

Against that brutal historical backdrop, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour (R) recently attempted to revise history by claiming that the White Citizens Council was a group of town leaders who kept the Ku Klux Klan out of town. That is similar to other revisionists depicting the Confederate Secession as a glorious and heroic event.

According to the Huffington Post, when asked why his hometown of Yazoo City was purportedly the only municipality to integrate its schools without violence, Barbour told the Weekly Standard that:

"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."

In fact, the White Citizens Council was nothing but a clean cut, corporate, white collar version of the KKK.  Both organizations supported segregation and white supremacy.  They simply used different tactics to enforce their racist ideology.

In the Huffington Post article, University of Michigan professor Robert Mickey states:

"This was an organization that spread very quickly across the South, directly in response to Brown v. Board of Education," said Mickey in an interview with The Huffington Post Monday. "Usually they were against violence because of its harm to economic development; firms wouldn't want to relocate to places that had a lot of violence. So their tools of slowing down the South's democratization was to use economic intimidation. ... They intimidated black parents from signing petitions demanding that school districts be desegregated, sometimes by printing the signatories in local newspapers, which oftentimes led to the signatures being recanted because the parents understood and feared the consequences of being publicly outed like that. So Barbour's right -- on one hand, they often helped out on the Klan, and a lot of times they were interested in deterring white mob violence. But Northerners are right that it's like the Klan."

This story is significant because Barbour is not just your average, ignorant racist.  As Governor of Mississippi, Barbour is shaping government policy in Mississippi.  As the Chairman of Republican Governors Association,  he is extremely influential.  Many consider him to be a serious, potential U.S. presidential candidate.  In the unlikely and frightening event that he is elected President, Barbour would shape U.S. domestic and foreign policy. Imagine what type of judges he would nominate to the United States Supreme Court and other federal courts. Imagine what type of legislation he would propose.

It is not surprising to see someone like Haley Barbour rise through the ranks of the Republican Party.  After all, the Republican Party did resort to the Southern Strategy to persuade racist Southerners to join.  It is the party that opposes affirmative action and immigrant rights. 

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