In this month’s Weekly Standard, Mississippi governor Haley Barbour (R) recalls his pleasant childhood growing up in 1960s Yazoo City, Mississippi. According to Barber, Yazoo City was spared the racial violence common in other parts of the state, thanks in part to the local Citizens’ Council, an “organization of town leaders” which kept the Klu Klux Klan at bay. Take a look:
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.”
In interviews Barbour doesn’t have much to say about growing up in the midst of the civil rights revolution. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” he said. “I remember Martin Luther King came to town, in ’62. He spoke out at the old fairground and it was full of people, black and white.”
However, as Matt Yglesias points out, the Citizens’ Council movement was populated by white supremacists, “proud of [their] white blood and [their] white heritage of sixty centuries.” Neil R. McMillen, historian and professor emeritus at University of Southern Mississippi, documented how the Yazoo City Citizens’ Council was certainly no exception.
Barbour spokesman Dan Turner told TPM that Barbour is not a racist and “nothing could be further from the truth.” “Gov. Barbour did not comment on the Citizens Council movement’s history,” Turner responded. “He commented on the business community in Yazoo City, Mississippi.”