Governor Haley Barbour (R-MS) is under fire today after some controversial quotes of his emerged over the weekend. Barbour is considered one of the favorites to challenge President Obama in 2012. He has made a name for himself as a fiscal and social conservative in his time as governor. However, some have also accused Barbour of painting an idealistic picture of the racist past in his state. Earlier this year Barbour claimed that the state never really struggled with integration, and that the civil rights struggles of African-Americans were “not that bad.” Now quotes have emerged of Barbour praising a segregationist group called the Citizens Council.
In a profile article in a conservative magazine called The Weekly Standard Barbour stated,
“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.”
However, as Talking Points Memo notes, the Citizens Councils were hardly known as an organization fighting for racial equality. The group was founded as a protest the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. The Brown decision mandated the integration of America’s public schools under the 14th Amendment. The Citizens Council was seen as a more public, and cleaner version of the Ku Klax Klan. Council members did not use white sheets, but instead publicly presented themselves in suits and ties. Rather than using lynchings or hangings Citizen Council members would use economic boycotts to try and silence civil rights activists. For instance, in Barbour’s hometown of Yazoo City the Citizens Council responded to a petition from African-Americans by publishing the names of the people who signed the petition. The petitioners, who had simply asked for desegregation of the local schools, soon started losing their jobs and businesses. In August of 1955 the petition began with 53 signatures. By the end of the year only two signatures remained as the signers asked to be removed following the pressure of the Citizens Council.
Talking Points Memo talked with a spokesperson who denied that Governor Barbour was racist. The spokesperson refused to answer questions about the Citizens Council or Barbour’s comments on the group. In response, Talking Points Memo detailed a number of racist statements made by the Citizens Council in the past.