Barbour's 'Clarification' Of White Citizens' Council Apologia Is Still More Whitewashing

Haley Barbour is obviously eager to walk back his boneheaded apologia for the old White Citizens Councils in Mississippi, so yesterday he issued a "clarification": "When asked why my hometown in Mississippi did not suffer the same racial violence

Haley Barbour is obviously eager to walk back his boneheaded apologia for the old White Citizens Councils in Mississippi, so yesterday he issued a "clarification":

"When asked why my hometown in Mississippi did not suffer the same racial violence when I was a young man that accompanied other towns' integration efforts, I accurately said the community leadership wouldn't tolerate it and helped prevent violence there. My point was my town rejected the Ku Klux Klan, but nobody should construe that to mean I think the town leadership were saints, either. Their vehicle, called the 'Citizens Council,' is totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country, and especially African Americans who were persecuted in that time."

Barbour is actually just making matters worse, because this too is false information and incredibly misleading. First of all, Yazoo City certainly did not reject the Klan -- it was very much a significant and well-reported presence on the local landscape at the time.

Moreover, it didn't need violence because the White Citizens Council in Yazoo City had so thoroughly intimidated and threatened its local black population into abject fear and silence. Let's recall Barbour's original exchange here, especially the question that prompted it:

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.

Well, as Adam Nossiter describes in some detail in his remarkable book, Of Long Memory: Mississippi and the Murder of Medgar Evers, the real answer is that the White Citizens' Council's intimidation campaign was so successful that it took years before blacks had the wherewithal to challenge school segregation in Yazoo City:

And fear forced people out of the NAACP. It atomized the community, making any kind of association a frightening undertaking. Whites saw any grouping of blacks as a threat.

"The Negroes will not come together, and our former president has not cooperated at all," Evers wrote despairingly from the Delta town of Yazoo City in 1956. Blacks there had filed a petition to desegregate the schools, as they had in a number of other Mississippi town, in the wake of the Supreme Court's desegregation decision in 1955. The Citizens' Council responded with a well-honed campaign of intimidation and published in the local newspaper the names of parents who had signed the petition. The people working for whites almost immediately lost their jobs, and soon all but two of the petition signers had backed down.

The Citizens' Council had intimidated the local NAACP president to such a degree that the group could no longer hold meetings in Yazoo City. "It appears that they have gotten next to him and we just can't get any results, not even a call meeting. One thing, the people are afraid. I would say is is worse than being behind the Iron Curtain," reported Evers.

Indeed, the assassination of Evers in the nearby city of Jackson, was committed by a charter member of the White Citizens' Council, a Greenwood man named Byron de la Beckwith -- who also happened to be a leading member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Leonard Zeskind has a good deal more on this:

Actually, the line between the Klan and the Citizens Councils in Mississippi was often a distinction without a difference. Consider Byron de la Beckwith, a member of the Greenwood Mississippi Citizens Council. He was also associated with Sam Bowers' White Knights Klan. In 1963, Beckwith used a sniper rifle to gun down the president of the Mississippi State NAACP, Medgar Evers, while he was virtually on the doorstep of his home in Jackson. And when Beckwith went to trial the first time for this brutal slaying, the Citizens Councils provided essential aid and succor. Haley Barbour would have been a sophomore in high school the year of the murder. In 1994, when Beckwith was finally convicted of first degree murder in that crime, Barbour would have been head of the Republican National Committee. Certainly he read the newspapers then. He has no excuse for even a momentary lapse with a Weekly Standard reporter.

Further, when Barbour claims that the Citizens Councils kept the Klan out of Yazoo City through the threat of economic boycott, that was actually the tool the Councils tried to use to keep the NAACP out. Across the South, Citizens Councils would gather the names of NAACP supporters and threaten them with economic sanctions if they continued to support desegregation.

Compare that historical reality to Haley Barbour's original description of this history:

“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.”

This is such a gross distortion that it really amounts to a baldfaced lie. Especially when you consider, as Ta-Nehisi Coates observes, the kind of history he is attempting to blot out here.

On Fox, the criticism is described as raising questions of racism on Barbour's part. But that's really not the immediate issue -- though it may be lurking at a deeper level down the road. The real issue here is that Haley Barbour is covering up for and whitewashing one of the most vicious white-supremacist organizations ever to have formed on American soil -- winking and nudging at them, and thereby enabling both them and their legatees. And he wants to run for president?

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