Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), a potential 2012 presidential candidate, made remarks this week about the Civil Rights Era that were revisionist and offensive. Barbour, for example, lifted up his home town chapter of the white supremacist group called the "White Citizens Council" as basically the moral equivalent of the local Chamber of Commerce.
The governor told The Weekly Standard:
"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."
They did have a problem with segregation, however. Not that Barbour seems to have noticed. "I just don't remember it as being that bad," he said of the period of segregation in Mississippi.
The Huffington Post reports life under the White Citizens Council wasn't easy for African-Americans:
Joseph Crespino, an associate professor of history at Emory University, also noted a particular incident in Yazoo City undermining Barbour's claims. "One of the things the Citizens Council would do is carry out economic harassment -- sometimes physical intimidation -- against local blacks," he said. "There was this well-known incident in Yazoo City in the 1950s where a handful of black parents tried to file a lawsuit against a local public school. They lost their jobs because they filed a lawsuit and they participated in the local civil rights movement. So it's well-documented that the kind of harassment that blacks faced when they tried to desegregate the schools there in Yazoo City."
Barbour seems obviously to the historical reality of segregation and the impact it had.
"It is quite disturbing that the governor of this state would take an approach to try to change the history of this state," said Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP. "It's beyond disturbing -- it's offensive that he would try and create a new historical reality that undermines the physical, mental, and economic hardship that many African-Americans had to suffer as a result of the policies and practices of the White Citizens Council."
This isn't the first time that Barbour has made racially insensitive comments. The New York Times reported back in 1982 that Barbour, then making a run for the U.S. Senate, had a campaign aide who complained that "coons" might be at a campaign rally. "Embarrassed that a reporter heard this, Mr. Barbour warned that if the aide persisted in racist remarks, he would be reincarnated as a watermelon and placed at the mercy of blacks," reported the paper.
Barbour is widely considered to be a serious candidate for the Republican nomination in 2012.