Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS), the potential presidential candidate who has come under fire for comments praising the segregationist Citizen Councils that operated during his youth in the South, has now released a statement fully condemning the organizations:
“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.”
In a profile in the Weekly Standard, Barbour recalled the group in positive terms:
“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.”
The Citizens Councils were founded in Mississippi in 1954, in protest of the Brown v. Board of Education decision that declared public school segregation to be unconstitutional.
The councils were dedicated to political activities opposing civil rights, notably through the use of boycotts against African-Americans who sought out their civil rights, and whites who supported them — including a famous instance by the group in Barbour’s hometown.
For an example of the Councils’ racist political rhetoric against racial integration, check out one of their newspapers here.
Yesterday, in an interview with TPM, Barbour spokesman Dan Turner had initially defended the comment:
“It was an organization in Yazoo City that was, you know, a group of the town leaders and business people,” Turner responded, then referring back to Barbour’s comment. “And they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. And that doesn’t sound like a racist to me. Does it to you?”