One of the absolutely strangest elements of modern American conservatism is the extraordinary level of hypersensitivity it exhibits about the idea that any white people might be racists. The view is basically that while, yes, in 1964 racism might have been a problem, the moment the Civil Rights Act passed over loud and persistent conservative objections it suddenly became the case that the only real race problem in America is liberals making false allegations of racism. The reality, of course, is that the Civil Rights Act was a controversial measure precisely because in 1964 an awful lot of Americans—and an especially large share of white southerners—were white supremacists. And those people didn’t suddenly vanish.
At any rate, of all the dumb pushback I got from the right the most terrifying was this from William Jacobsen, who’s apparently a professor at a prestigious university and thus ought to be able to deploy some rudimentary logic:
1947 was the year in which the color barrier was broken in Major League Baseball. Prior to Jackie Robinson taking the field, MLB (or whatever it was called at the time) was segregated. Actually, it was more than segregated, it excluded blacks completely.
Using the logic of Matthew Yglesias of Think Progress, who is having his 15 minutes of race card fame, anyone who expresses any measure of praise for the pre-1947 Yankees necessarily would be “expressing affection for a White Supremacist” organization. It would not matter that the praise was for the Yankees’ baseball skills; any expression of anything less than complete condemnation of the Yankees necessarily evidences tolerance for racism because the Yankees were part of a racist system.
This is absolutely insane. A find it difficult to believe that Cornell Law School is employing someone stupid enough to advance this argument, but I know that conservatives don’t like it when you impugn their level of racial enlightenment, so I’ll just take it as a given that Jacobsen is an idiot. Obviously, though, the difference is that the organization whose activities Barbour was praising was an organization founded in order to maintain a white supremacist political order. The Citizens’ Councils weren’t just organizations that happened to be all-white during a period of white supremacist ascendancy. According to the Association of Citizens’ Councils pamphlet “Why Does Your Community Need a Citizens’ Council?”:
Maybe your community has had no racial problems! This may be true; however, you may not have a fire, yet you maintain a fire department. You can depend on one thing: The NAACP (National Association for the Agitation of Colored People), aided by alien influences, bloc vote seeking politicians and left-wing do-gooders, will see that you have a problem in the near future.
The Citizens’ Council is the South’s answer to the mongrelizers. We will not be integrated. We are proud of our white blood and our white heritage of sixty centuries.
This was an organization dedicated to maintaining white supremacy and to combatting the civil rights movement. Unlike the KKK, they believed in doing this in a moderate, non-violent way. And Haley Barbour was praising their moderate approach. Which is fine, I’m all for moderation and non-violence, but it was a moderate non-violent approach to maintaining white supremacy. When I praise non-violence in the context of the civil rights era, my preferred example involved Martin Luther King, Junior. But then, I’ve always been a Mets fan.