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Haley Barbour’s Raid on Historical Memory

(An update follows this post.)

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is at it again. Seems like every time Barbour pops up in the news these days he's busy whitewashing Mississippi's racist past.

The latest came my way yesterday via Digby and Joan McCarter at Kos. In an interview with the Weekly Standard, Barbour had the audacity to claim that the White Citizens' Councils were the reason why schools in his home town of Yazoo City, MS integrated with out violence.

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.”

Up north, down south and anywhere anybody knows anything about the White Citizens Councils, they know the WCCs were community associations whose purpose was to uphold segregation—often by means, like economic coercion, more subtle than the Klan violence, but no less racist and hateful than other hardcore racists of the time. Atrios and Matt Yglesias rightly called bullshit with some of the history of the Yazoo City Citizens Council opposition to school integration.

I thought I'd add some primary sources to the mix, which should help to make it clear---should anyone doubt it---that the Citizens Council was just as virulently racist as the Klan. Here is an excerpt from a 1963 speech by Louis W. Hollis, then executive director of the Citizens' Councils of America, to the Savannah, Georgia White Citizens' Council. Hollis also served on the board of directors of his local Citizens' Council in Jackson, Mississippi.

Ladies and gentlemen, if we allow integration to be forced upon us, if we allow the resulting destruction of our social order, we can expect no economic or cultural future whatsoever.

Yet, in the face of all this evidence, what are the conditions which an arrogant Federal government would foist upon us? Our city governments would be debauched by the negro bloc vote. Black insolence would threaten women, and gangs of black toughs would threaten our children, as is happening in so many cities of the North today….

Nations were made by men, not by paper Constitutions and paper ballots. We're not free because we have a Constitution. We have a Constitution because our pioneer fathers who cleared the wilderness and dared the might of kings were free men…if you can make men out of paper, then it is possible with a scratch of a pen in the hands of a tyrannical judge or a vicious attorney general, to transform by its magic 18 million blacks into 18 million kings.

We gladly grant the negro his right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness..if he can be happy without exercising kinship with the white race, or dragging us down to his level. But, if he cannot find happiness except in amalgamation with the white race, let him look for another world in which to live. There is no room for both of us on this continent!!

We've been congratulated on our self-restraint under the awful provocation of the last nine years. But, there is a limit beyond which we dare not go, for at this point, self-restraint is cowardice and means the loss of manhood. My friends, I ask you to determine to make good your right to live! The time for platitudes is past. Let us, as men and women face the world and say what we mean.

This is a white man's government, conceived by white men and maintained by white men through every year of its history. And by the God of our fathers, it shall be ruled by the white man until the archangels shall call the end of time!

Integration represents darkness, regimentation, totalitarianism, Communism and destruction. Segregation represents the freedom to choose one's associates, Americanism, State Sovereignty and the survival of the white race. (pgs 15, 16, 17)

Now back to Yazoo City. Atrios and Yglesias both discussed the Yazoo City Citizens' Council's successful use of social and economic pressure to get local Blacks to withdraw their names from a NAACP petition to desegregate the local schools. Historical documents show further that economic sanctions and intimidation were mainstays of the Yazoo City Citizens' Council.

The Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, a state funded segregationist spy agency, funneled public money into the Citizens Councils ((Link/citation coming)) and received regular intelligence from Council officials all around the state. The Sovereignty Commission files were declassified in 1998 and are available online. In a November 26, 1958 memo, Sovereignty Commission investigator Zack J. Van Landingham recounted a visit to a Yazoo City Citizens' Council Steering Committee luncheon.

Approximately 20 of the leading citizens were present, including some 4 or 5 from Vicksburg, Mississippi. Among those present were the President of the Citizens' Council, Dr. R.J. Moorehead, Mr. Tom Campbell, a prominent attorney, Mr. Albert S. Gardner, a member of the House of Representatives and the editor of the local newspaper. These executive meetings are held each Friday noon as a luncheon at the Danries Restaurant. At these meetings, they take up anything pertinent relative to racial relations that has happened during the last week and decide what action should be taken. If the complaint is with reference to some Negro agitator, a committee will go to the Negro's boss and discuss the situation with him. Usually the boss will fire the Negro. That will end the matter without the Citizens' Council ever being outwardly involved.

Van Landingham returned to Yazoo City on January 9, 1959 and met with Sheriff J.H. Moore.

Sheriff Moore advised that there had been no trouble with reference to the Negroes in Yazoo County in the past 2 or 3 years, or since the petition seeking admission to the white schools had been made by the Negroes with subsequent disastrous results as affected them.

Sheriff Moore advised that only 28 Negroes were registered to vote in Yazoo County at the present time as compared with approximately 300 who were registered to vote when he took office. He attributed this slackening off to a lack of interest on the part of the Negroes. He stated that the troublemakers who had been responsible for the public school petition to integrate the races had all left Yazoo City due to economic reprisals which had been made against the. [sic] None of them have returned.

He also attributes the lack of interest on the part of the Negroes to the 3 strong Citizens' Councils which are in operation in Yazoo County. These Citizens' Councils are located at Benton, Bentonia, and Yazoo City.

The evidence is overwhelming that Haley Barbour's assertions about the White Citizens' Council are untrue. Why is he purveying these blatant lies? I agree with Digby, who says "it's clearly a strategy."

If he's running for president, as it seems he is, then I'd guess he's going to have to appeal to those Tea Partiers to win a primary. (You'll recall that he dissed Sarah Palin pretty badly.) This is a dogwhistle and a clever one. He's simply saying that racism in America was always overblown with the implication being that those who complain about it have always been whiners.

This seems right, but I think there is also something else going on. Over the years of his governorship, Barbour has periodically come under fire for his ties to racist ideologues and causes. For starters, Barbour notoriously refused to distance himself from the White Citizens' Council under its more recent name, the Council of Conservative Citizens, after he attended one of their barbecues, during his gubernatorial run in 2003, and was pictured in their newspaper with members of the group. Running against incumbent governor Ronnie Musgrove, who had supported a recently failed referendum to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the design of Mississippi's state flag, Barbour campaigned with a state-flag pin prominently adorning his lapel.

Unlike Sarah Palin, Barbour has a substantial and unattractive history of policies and actions trailing behind him. This history may come back at him if he runs for president. The clever thing about his dog whistle is it's also a pitch pipe, and he's calling a tune for a chorus of denial and forgetting to buffer him.

UPDATE 12/21: Breaking on Talking Points Memo: Haley Barbour tries to revise his position on the nature of White Citizens' Councils, calls them "totally indefensible," still insists Yazoo City did not tolerate the Klan. Rude Pundit cites some evidence to the contrary, showing presence of the Klan in Yazoo City in 1957 and in 1965.

Further Reading

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Mimi December 21, 2010, 10:26 am

    Wow, great primary source material here! Thank you for this. Like you, I’ve been following his dissection by Digby and others, amazed that any Southerner could still be spewing such literally unreconstructed views, or trying to ignore history that recent and that undeniable. I wonder if the point is that he doesn’t have to win any such debate — he just has to start it, and step back. He can rely on the ignorance and willful forgetting of others to carry it forward, and say explicitly the things Barbour only says with a wink and a nod.

    In other words, what a self-righteous racist poopsack.

  • Mimi December 23, 2010, 4:31 am

    Wow, great primary source material here! Thank you for this. Like you, I’ve been following his dissection by Digby and others, amazed that any Southerner could still be spewing such literally unreconstructed views, or trying to ignore history that recent and that undeniable. I wonder if the point is that he doesn’t have to win any such debate — he just has to start it, and step back. He can rely on the ignorance and willful forgetting of others to carry it forward, and say explicitly the things Barbour only says with a wink and a nod.nnIn other words, what a self-righteous racist poopsack.

  • Ben December 23, 2010, 4:44 am

    Yes, Mimi, I tend to think you are right. I was trying to make a similar suggestion with my over-vague metaphor at the end.

  • liberal american December 30, 2010, 5:23 pm

    Thank you very much for using my sources without attributing them. There is only one place those quotes from the MSSC came from and that is my blog. It took a lot of work to dig up that evidence. The least you can do is acknowledge it. You very clever6 circumvent copyright law.nnThe REAL story is nnHaley Barbour and the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission

  • Ben December 30, 2010, 6:14 pm

    Liberal American, please investigate a little more carefully before making such inflammatory charges. nnAs I noted in my blog post, the Sovereignty Commission files are available to all online. They are not *your* sources. They are everyone’s. nnBut getting beyond silly claims about who owns publicly available sources, please look at the publication date of my post: December 21, 2010. That is one week before your post was published.nnI am not familiar with your book, but if you take some time to read the archives of my blog, you will find that I’ve been publishing about Sovereignty Commission documents since 2005. I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that I am the first blogger to have made use of Sovereignty Commission files online. I have read extensively in the files and am familiar with a great deal of what is there. I’ve actually cited the Louis Hollis speech on my blog before; finding the Yazoo Citizens Council sources just involved typing “Yazoo” in the folder title search field, to get these results:nnhttp://mdah.state.ms.us/arrec/digital_archives/sovcom/imagelisting.php?foldercheckbox[]=910|10|92||0&foldercheckbox[]=44|2|13||0&searchimages=Submit+QuerynnBeing an obsessive researcher type, I opened every document and read looking for sources that would add to this discussion. It’s not rocket science.nnFinally, I did cite my sources. I introduced my passages from the Sovereignty Commission files with the following text:nn

    The Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, a state funded segregationist spy agency, funneled public money into the Citizens Councils[1] and received regular intelligence from Council officials all around the state. The Sovereignty Commission files were declassified in 1998 and are available online.

    nnIn the post, the phrase “available online” links to the Sovereignty Commission Online homepage: http://mdah.state.ms.us/arrec/digital_archives/sovcom/nnEach quote includes links back to the specific documents quoted. nnA better approach to engaging me would have been a) to acknowledge in *your* post that someone else has already published on some of the same sources and b) leave me a comment or drop me a line inviting me to come check it out and discuss.

  • Ben December 30, 2010, 6:26 pm

    I meant to note as well that your book is $50 on Amazon.com. Unless one has an academic affiliationu2014which I don’tu2014it is not really a publicly available resource at such a prohibitive price point. In my suggested approaches to engaging bloggers with expertise that overlaps with yours, let me add c) you could have left a comment or dropped me a line noting that you’ve published a book in this area and offered me a review copy.

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