Of Barbour and the ‘Uptown Klan' | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Of Barbour and the ‘Uptown Klan'

It seems Haley Barbour went too far this time. In an interview with the conservative Weekly Standard, he downplayed the terror and racial caste system of his town and our state during the Civil Rights Movement.

"I just don't remember it as being that bad," said the Mississippi governor who apparently wouldn't mind being president.

To point, he defended the dreaded Citizens Councils--which Greenville newspaper editor (and fellow southerner) Hodding Carter Jr. dubbed the "uptown Klan" for their vicious tactics to keep the races separate.

"You heard of the Citizens Councils?" Barbour said in the interview. "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."


Well, the Citizens Councils--the national headquarters were here in Jackson--were groups of white "town leaders." Tragically, after the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, many business and professional leaders came together to do everything in their power to stop the integration of schools, businesses and everyday life in Mississippi. They did not overtly support violence, although their rhetoric helped lead to it and spread the anger that caused the Ku Klux Klan--the violent terrorist arm of segregationists--to re-form in Mississippi after being largely dormant for decades.

Some members of the Citizens Council would later say they chose to be part of the council because it was the less violent means of "keeping the peace"; of course, that meant keeping the races separate and spreading innuendo and crime hysteria about black people.

The Citizens Councils were, in part, state funded and closely allied with the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, a state spy agency that sent agents all over the state looking for evidence of "subversion" (also called liberalism and communism) that ranged from allowing a black man to use your gas station bathroom (from an "intelligence" report about Neshoba County) to feeding the license plates numbers of civil rights workers like James Chaney to sheriffs in the Klan so they could find them and kill them as they did Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner on Father's Day, 1964.

On the Sovereignty Commission website you learn that racist Gov. Ross Barnett got the state to start paying Citizens Councils about $200,000 a month to help maintain segregation, keep blacks from voting and fight federal civil-rights legislation. Members of the Citizens Councils also contributed to legal funds to defend Klansmen who committed violence.

This was the kind of group Barbour defended in another example of his attempt to rewrite Mississippi's race history. Several weeks ago, he said in another interview that schools were integrated in Yazoo City when he was in school--another blatant untruth.

Barbour's Orwellian approach to denying the bad race stuff is disturbing--and not just because he is either ignorant about his own state's history or because he might hold some of those views personally. People who are ignorant of racism or sympathetic to racists are a dime a dozen in our state and beyond. It's bad, but it's not the real problem.

Our governor has long gone beyond simple denial when it comes to our race history. He is dangerous because he actively uses many people's shame and desire to forget as a way to divide people and froth up white folks to vote against what is actually in their best interest. He uses the "southern strategy" he helped perfect to convince them that black people are scary and want their hard-earned money. It's no secret that this strategy spawned George Bush Sr.'s "Willie Horton" and Ronald Reagan's "welfare queen" scare tactics to elicit the "I fear black people" voter response. (The typical welfare recipient in our state is an older white woman.) The Republican Party even apologized to the NAACP for this race-baiting for votes.

But Barbour's role as a clever southern strategist who helped the Republican Party complete its switch from being the party of Lincoln isn't the most infuriating part--not in the way that it (suddenly) is outraging national journalists this week, who haven't bothered to pay attention to the real Barbour in the past.

As a Neshoba Countian who watched my town and state wrecked by our slavery and Jim Crow legacies, I take Barbour's whitewashing of our history personally. No, let me be even plainer: I think it is shameful and sinful for a politician or strategist to treat white Mississippians as if we haven't changed, and then expect us to respond by giving them everything they want (to benefit their corporate donors).

The southern strategy plays right to the heart of the kind of backward bigotry generations of white Mississippians were taught from the cradle to justify our state's horrifying mistreatment of black people. Even the less prejudiced among us grew up amid a culture of fear of black crime, even as white people were committing the most heinous ones against African Americans--often with a crowd cheering them on. We were taught horrible things about blacks to dehumanize them, often by people whose parents just handed down prejudice without thinking about it. And so on.

Thus, to watch someone like Barbour--an educated man--stand up and play us against each other to build a voting base for corporate America turns my stomach. And to listen to him try to make our history sound like it wasn't as bad as it was infuriates me, especially since it is so important for Mississippians to know how bad it was to fully appreciate how far we've already come in a few decades. Knowing and understanding that remarkable progress is what will give us the strength and will to keep going, to rebuild what the white supremacists Barbour loves to defend tore apart, to build diverse alliances for progress.

Our racist legacy has left us so much to repair: from "ghettos" created by white people who wouldn't allow blacks to get loans or build wealth, to a pattern of crime instilled by our state's habit of dehumanizing black men to the point that too many of them still believe it. We can, and by damn are, bridging these gaps and making progress precisely because of our shared history.

We can't allow a power-hungry southern strategist to take that away from us.

Previous Comments

ID
161343
Comment

Bravo Donna, Once again you have enlightened me with you acute analysis.

Author
Renaldo Bryant
Date
2010-12-22T12:15:08-06:00
ID
161345
Comment

We can't allow a power-hungry southern strategist take that away from us. Nice to hear, but sad to see so many empower them to do it in the first place, even though it's hurting them just as well....hint...hint

Author
Duan C.
Date
2010-12-22T12:26:05-06:00
ID
161346
Comment

PLEASE Haley don't run for POTUS! You are only going to embarrass Mississippi...and yourself.

Author
Lori Kincses
Date
2010-12-22T12:37:31-06:00
ID
161349
Comment

I doubt that this country would want a Fred Flintstone-looking, Southern drawl speaker as president. Anyhow, of course it wasn't that bad back then...if you were white.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2010-12-23T09:35:46-06:00
ID
161350
Comment

Donna, I have read many pieces that you have written across the years, but, this one goes to the top of my list. It is laced with an assessment that a second grader could understand and a genius would not find boring. The article awakens one to think: Take the tea-bag off of your head and the shackles from your legs for a trip that will increase youre level of comphrension and understanding. These are qualities that are necessary for CHANGE. This piece could be used for a lecture in race relations: It unearth's the notion that the majority of the folks in this State could share a common bond that could produce a political arm that would move mountains; however, it is the Barbour's of the world who use every trick in the book to kill this possibility. When white folks think that black folks are taking things away from them and giving nothing back and black folks think that all whites are a part of that strategy, the gap widens. It is only with this dept of understanding of the problem that we continue to work towards solving it.

Author
justjess
Date
2010-12-23T10:59:41-06:00
ID
161353
Comment

Disguised as a wolf in sheep's clothing,his claims to not having any civil rights violations to the media are falling short of truthful. The fact that he himself had personal knowledge of an end stage Alzheimer's patient and the blocking of her son/legal caretaker from a disaster application because he didn't want them to receive any FEMA assistance leaves many unanswered questions. A candidate for president of our country? I don't think so. America needs answers to this unprecedented act of hate.

Author
DeGuyz
Date
2010-12-26T11:38:20-06:00

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