Barbour's Cross to Bear | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Barbour's Cross to Bear

In 1968 in Yazoo City, Police Chief Ardis Russell Sr. arrested a black mother, LeBertha Owens, for trying to take her young daughter, Gloria, to the public library for materials to complete her school assignments. Her daughter was left behind, as she watched the sheriff take her mother to jail for trying to help her get a decent education.

That one incident, from this week's cover story, says so much about Mississippi's history and present--as well as our governor's real or feigned ignorance about what went on in his hometown in the 1960s.

Gov. Haley Barbour is tiptoeing through a historic minefield as he tries to make his way to the White House. Ever since he worked for Richard Nixon, and then Ronald Reagan, and then later as head of the Republican National Committee, he has helped Republicans get votes by appealing to a "lesser" tendency in American society. He became a master of the "southern strategy" to get white people to switch over to the party that had, before the 1960s, been the party that supported leveling the playing field for non-white Americans.

With his strategic flair for knowing what made many white folks tick, and vote, Barbour helped complete the party switch that began in the 1960s when the national Democratic Party forsook the southern white Dixiecrats and supported federal civil-rights legislation. It is a strategy many Republicans despise; in 2005, then-RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman apologized to the NAACP for the party's use of the horrendous vote-getting race device.

But the southern strategy's legacy is Haley Barbour's cross to bear. And it keeps biting him in the butt, especially now that he is trying to appeal to a nationwide constituency that doesn't give him as many passes as his largely white Mississippi voters or his national ultra-conservative base. His response has been to try to whitewash the country's, the state's and his hometown's racist history, somehow acting like the entire nation, or at least enough red states, will allow him to throw real-but-inconvenient facts and stories down the Orwellian memory hole, shredded and forgotten.

When Barbour told The Weekly Standard recently that the Citizens' Council saved his hometown from the Ku Klux Klan, people of all races educated in civil-rights history said, "What the ...?"

The truth is that the Citizens' Council gathered the powerful white men of Mississippi--including Barbour's friends and family--together to stop integration of any level of society by just about any means necessary. And his statement that they were in his hometown to stop the Klan was particularly absurd because the Council formed in Mississippi before the Klan's re-emergence. The Klan functioned as a violent terrorist arm of groups like the Citizens' Council and Americans for the Preservation of the White Race; Kluckers did the dirty work as the "Uptown Klan" laid the groundwork, led the boycotts and gathered the addresses of people of all races who didn't go along with their program.

This, Gov. Barbour, is your history, and it is my history, every Mississippian's and American's history. Any person who aspires to the U.S. presidency needs to know and own this history, not strive to deny it at every turn.

It is a past, though, that many Americans would rather not face. Many don't want to believe that the Citizens Council and the Klan and bald-faced bigots operated in their states, north and south, but they did and, in too many cases, still do. Barbour's wing of the Republican Party, tragically, wants to appeal to the voters who, shall we say, are still conflicted over our racist history and efforts to keep African Americans in second-class citizen status. In many ways, a presidential candidate who has long played the southern-strategy card is ideal for them. And Barbour clearly believes he needs their votes to win.

But he is in a pickle; he needs other votes, too. That leads to the dance of absurdity he is doing now as one race bomb after another goes off in his direction. For instance, he believes he can't condemn the Sons of Confederate Veterans' attempt to put a former Klan wizard, and its first prominent leader who also led a massacre of black soldiers during the Civil War, on a Mississippi license plate.

Why not? Because he clearly wants the votes of the white people who want Nathan Bedford Forrest treated like a hero because he was good at military strategy. (Strategists admire strategy, after all.)

But not all strategy is worth applauding, whether it was Forrest's fight to keep slaves in slave states (Google the Mississippi Articles of Secession to understand exactly why the Civil War was fought) or Barbour's effort to appeal to the racist vote by pandering to those voters while pretending not to.

The ultimate and saddest effect of this southern-strategizing is to keep the South, and the nation, divided along race lines. It's not like people of color or Americans educated in real race history are going to start voting in any kind of real numbers for candidates who engage in wink-wink political racism, even if they occasionally appoint a black judge or suddenly go whole-hog after a civil-rights museum when they're running for president. (We will take the museum, though, thanks.)

The southern-strategy habit sits firmly behind current attempts to ridiculously gerrymander political districts into majority-white and majority-black districts in the state, self-fulfilling the notion that blacks aren't going to elect whites and vice versa. This serves no one, except the people of all races who want to get into power and then stay there by continuing the lines of division.

Meantime, there is a shared history in our state and nation that can bring us together and make us stronger. First, of course, we have to know it, consider it and then make smart decisions based on it.

The JFP's news editor, Lacey McLaughlin, is a young white woman who grew up with almost no education about real civil-rights history. She took it upon herself two months ago to go find the real context for Barbour's statements about the Citizens' Council. It has been heartening to hear her reactions as she went back and forth to Yazoo City, learning the tough lessons of history that can't be taught in sound bites or hit-and-run journalism.

Her cover story this issue is the result of two months of hard work. Her curiosity and hunger to understand and overcome divisions serve as an example to us, if we allow it to.

Previous Comments

ID
162389
Comment

. The only folks trying to keep the racial division going is liberal trash like this publication.

Author
Go Dawgs!
Date
2011-03-03T13:50:31-06:00
ID
162392
Comment

Go Dawgs, out of this whole conversation and everything in it, that's the best you can come up? An ad hominem attack? I'm sorry, but history and facts are important to us here at the JFP. And there is nothing about that that makes us "trash." Funny, though, that's exactly the kind of phrase segregationists used to complain about people fighting for racial equity in the 1960s. So, in a twisted way, I take it as a compliment. I sure would hate to be on the other end of that insult.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2011-03-03T14:26:34-06:00
ID
162393
Comment

Oh, and Go Dawgs! I agree with you on that part. ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2011-03-03T14:27:25-06:00
ID
162395
Comment

Great article Ladd! I can bear witness that the JFP does not instigate or go out of its way to bring message about MS and its painful, cruel and inhumane treatment of African-American during the 60s and all other years preceding that period; rather, the JFP has served as an instrument for truth and enlightenment. There are so many Whites that I have met agross the years, to inclde some of the people I worked with, who said, "I didn't know." To hear the Governor of the State of MS say that "things were not that bad" during the 60s is a testimony to his distortion of the facts and his admission that he (Barbour) is insensitive and without sorrow for the tragedies that happened to Black people. Klan Murders, Firings, Dog Bites, Injuries from Firemen Water Hoses, Beatings, Home Burnings and this list does not include acts of discrimination: The back of the bus, the back doors to medical offices, the inability to access or borrow a book from a library are conditions lived by blacks. Resturants were off limits as were hotels. In Vicksburg, MS, my home town, there was a fast food place called, Burger King. Blacks had to knock on the back door and receive their orders from the back. The JFP did not drum up or make up these stories. They actually happened. This is our history and healing from it will not include denial, criticism or disgust from those who read here. @ Go Dawgs What keeps you reading the JFP if you think that it is nothing but "libersl trash"? Just asking?

Author
justjess
Date
2011-03-03T15:30:35-06:00
ID
162396
Comment

Gov. Barbour's latest is accusing President Obama of deliberately causing the severe increase in gasoline prices. He said that "Obama is trying to promote his clean energy program." It seems that this man will stop at nothing! My question to Mr. Barbour is: Did George Bush deliberately cause the severe increase in gasoline prices during his administration? Increased oil prices is not a new ball game.

Author
justjess
Date
2011-03-03T15:55:12-06:00
ID
162401
Comment

Simply a marvelous and award winning piece. This and Lacey's story too. The truth ministers to the mind and soul and moves us all forward.

Author
Walt
Date
2011-03-03T17:45:54-06:00
ID
162406
Comment

It seems that this man will stop at nothing! My question to Mr. Barbour is: Did George Bush deliberately cause the severe increase in gasoline prices during his administration? You should've seen my Facebook status this morning. I wonder where his criticism of Bush when prices were even higher in 2008. And if Obama is being blamed for rising prices because of his energy policy, what's the reason for prices rising under Bush?

Author
golden eagle
Date
2011-03-03T21:23:43-06:00
ID
162407
Comment

Why did gas prices drop from a high of $4 gallon 2008 to $1.60 a gallon before Bush left office and have done nothing but rise since Obama has been in office?

Author
BubbaT
Date
2011-03-03T22:24:27-06:00
ID
162408
Comment

justjess and golden eagle, I agree. How can we blame Bush for high prices but not Obama and vice-versa? How many times did Pelosi and Co. blame Bush/Cheney for gas hikes? Where is she now? Both parties playing the blame game, per usual. Enjoy choosing between the lesser of two evils.

Author
jbreland
Date
2011-03-04T02:01:17-06:00
ID
162409
Comment

@breland- I think by "creating" a war in Iraq, Bush caused an increase in oil prices and much instability. Obama is setting a new path to energy freedom, one where 300 billion doesn't roll into the hands of the Middle East every year. How Haley gets misconstrued over this topic makes sense if you've been listening to his logic.... on most things (Oil Spill,Drilling,Civil Rights in the 60's,Funding Education) . Bravo to the JFP for getting into the "meat" of this his-story.

Author
Sanity
Date
2011-03-04T08:30:34-06:00
ID
162412
Comment

Folks, I'm going to have to ask you to take the oil conspiracy conversation to another thread (feel free to start one in the forums). This column and following comments should be about Barbour and his use of the southern strategy, even as I know many of you would like not to talk about *that*. All comments going forward here must stay on topic. (If someone starts a thread about it, feel free to post the link here to redirect folks.) Thanks, Donna

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2011-03-04T09:19:23-06:00
ID
162416
Comment

Why am I reminded of Homer Stokes from O Brother Where Art Thou? "Is you is, or is you ain't, my constituency?" That ain't gonna work on a national level.

Author
Tre
Date
2011-03-04T11:04:28-06:00
ID
162419
Comment

@ Tre - lol!!!!! "Gimme dat mic-a-phone, gimme dat mic-a-phone, mic-a-phone, mic-a-phone"!!!! You shouldn't have brought that movie up, that movie is hilarious

Author
Duan C.
Date
2011-03-04T12:14:48-06:00
ID
162489
Comment

Is it possible that maybe he appointed a black judge or was involved in whatever capacity with the museum for reasons other than he was running for president? I realize that's insane thinking here but since no one person can know what another persons motives are without being that person I would think it would be a question rather than stated as fact.

Author
Alex0393
Date
2011-03-09T14:39:42-06:00
ID
162494
Comment

Alex, of course it's possible, but the circumstantial evidence isn't good. Barbour used to have a hard time finding black judges to appoint. Now he's gotten better. And his renewed efforts for the civil rights museum came out of nowhere right soon after one of his race gaffes, with him not suddenly turning on a dime away from support of it being at Tougaloo (pissing them off in the process). This one just ain't hard to figure out. But as a political strategist, Barbour has seldom been subtle. He's never had to be.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2011-03-09T21:17:27-06:00
ID
162496
Comment

I feel like he's been an excellent governor in an impossible state to govern. He, like the rest, is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't you know? He may not have spent alot of time pacifying those who scream to be pacified but I don't think he's been overly unfair given what he has to work with. Mississippi will always be where it is because everyone's so scared everyone else is getting something they're not and the end result is no one gets anything. It's a shame but I guess it's the world we live in. Everyone wants to win the argument, no one wants to solve the problem

Author
Alex0393
Date
2011-03-09T21:32:49-06:00
ID
162505
Comment

@Alex0393, I feel like he has been an excellent governor in an impossible state to govern..............." I am among those who want "to solve the problem". I'm concerned about the language in your comment. You said, "I feel like he's been an excellent governor". There are things that we feel that are far removed from facts: What actually happened. Can you list a few things that Gov. Barbour has done that you are placing into your category of excellence? Barbour hasn't made any bones about his position on certain issues. For starters, he said, when first elected, that he did not have any jobs in his administration that women were qualified to hold. His reason for not appointing any blacks to Judgeships was his problem with finding blacks who are qualified.(Blah, Blah, Blah) It was not by accident that all of a sudden, he has finally found a qualified black lawyer to serve as Judge. Barbour is now trying to straddle the fence. He wants to keep his "Southern Strategy" alive while staying away from toxic situations that he can not defend and expect to become a viable candidate for President. When he puts on his pseudo-sheep suit, the buttons fall off and it doesn't matter what you FEEL, it's what you see that counts.

Author
justjess
Date
2011-03-10T13:36:12-06:00

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