Now I wouldn’t pay no never mind to a old pro-segregationist gubernatorial gasbag from Mississippi who’s trying to paper over beliefs most people would find objectionable. Except that this particular gasbag is the powerful head of the RGA and has Sarah Palin-like delusional ambitions towards the presidency. Ain’t no coincidence that we’re hearing him try to convince us that a man who was interested in politics quite early in life pushed against the tide of prevailing white opinion in his home state as a young men in favor of equal rights and integration. Here’s what Gov. and former RNC Chair Barbour said recently:
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.”
Did you go? I asked.
“Sure, I was there with some of my friends.”
I asked him why he went out.
“We wanted to hear him speak.”
I asked what King had said that day.
“I don’t really remember. The truth is, we couldn’t hear very well. We were sort of out there on the periphery. We just sat on our cars, watching the girls, talking, doing what boys do. We paid more attention to the girls than to King.”
Um… ok, there are so many things wrong in that short paragraph that I don’t have time to de-construct it. For one thing, I think it’s probably a revisionist lie that he went to hear King speak. Furthermore, there were few places in the Union where segregation and inequality were more viciously enforced than Mississippi. We all know this. But here’s an up-close example from the same article above about Barbour’s hometown, Yazoo City featuring a colorful quote from Jeppie, Haley’s brother (emphasis mine):
In 1969 the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order forcing the city to integrate its school system by January 7, 1970, more than 15 years after the Supreme Court outlawed “separate but equal” public education. When Haley graduated, Yazoo City High School had yet to admit a black student. (He encountered black classmates, very few in number, for the first time at Ole Miss.) Yazoo public schools had been separate but not, of course, equal; per pupil spending in black schools was less than one third what it was in white schools.
Willie Morris was in Yazoo City for deadline day too, like Haley a son of the segregated South, though unlike Haley a racial liberal. “By the middle of the day,” Morris wrote in Yazoo: Integration in a Deep Southern Town, “it was quite apparent that Yazoo City had indeed integrated its schools calmly and deliberately.” The national reporters presented the city to the world as a model of how integration at its best could work. The new school system was roughly 55 percent black, and as the deadline passed few whites withdrew for the handful of private schools that had hurriedly opened not long before.
Jeppie Barbour is one of the protagonists of Morris’s book. He is portrayed as a racial moderate, despite his boasts about the Mace canisters that local police had taken to wearing on their belts. “You get a drunk,” Morris quotes Jeppie saying, “you either get him to come with you or you have to manhandle him. You give him Mace and he’ll want to go anywhere with you. It keeps that nigger’s head in good shape.”
The relief and earnest fellowship of January 7, 1970, proved fleeting. Jeppie Barbour had been wrong: There was indeed a mass exodus, but within the city itself. After two years the white student body had declined sharply, as parents withdrew their kids and enrolled them in the new private schools. The public schools today are more than 80 percent African American. It’s been a kind of privatized resegregation. Even before integration, the more affluent Yazooans had begun detaching themselves from the neighborhoods around the central city and moving into ranch houses and split levels on large lots carved from the woods outside of town. Haley and Marsha’s house is up a winding road on a hillside covered in dogwood and sweetgum trees, just above the nine-hole Yazoo Country Club. Down the hill and across the tracks, Mr. Kelly showed me, is Manchester Academy, where the Barbours sent their two boys. It’s a private K-12 school, founded in 1969.
“It was built for people who didn’t want their children to go to public schools after integration,” Mr. Kelly said.
Just so we’re clear, the Barbours chose to send their kids to a school setup precisely to flout de-segregation laws. And “it wasn’t that bad”? Yeah, I guess not, if you were white and had no limitations on where you could work or go to school, no limits on where you could shop or use the restroom or eat or own property and no limit on whether you could vote. Yes, if you were white, segregation wasn’t that bad at all! Get me another mint julep, darkie…
Look, this is the same guy who earlier this year used a racist slur in order to rap an aide over his racism! This is what deeply embedded racism looks like (From Newsweek, 1/11/10):
Barbour Reprimanded His Campaign Aide For Using A Racist Remark At A Campaign Event By Warning Him That If He “Persisted In Racist Remarks, He Would Be Reincarnated As A Watermelon And Placed At The Mercy Of Blacks.” “Eventually, it was Barbour’s turn. In 1982, he was presented with an unexpected opportunity to run as the Republican candidate against the state’s esteemed Democratic senator John Stennis. Stennis was a Mississippi institution but also an octogenarian: ‘a senator for the ’80s, not a senator in his 80s’ was Barbour’s unofficial motto. The young candidate’s inexperience showed, sometimes painfully. Barbour was embarrassed by an aide’s nasty remarks about ‘coons’ at campaign rallies. But in reprimanding the aide, he only made things worse. As The New York Times recounted it, Barbour warned the aide that if he ‘persisted in racist remarks, he would be reincarnated as a watermelon and placed at the mercy of blacks.’ Stennis easily won the race–because he was beloved in the state, not because of Barbour’s gaffe. But Barbour could see he still had a lot to learn about politics.”
Barbour is the kettle calling the pot “a watermelon”. Or something like that. This is very offensive to me as an African-American chiefly because the worst thing a racist could be re-born as in the black community is not a piece of watermelon but a piece of fried chicken. So the fate Barbour recommends is pulling punches.
Ok, I’m clownin’. But for realz — does a white man actually have to wear a white hood and ride through the streets burning crosses for the media to ask hard questions about his views today and yesterday on race? I’d give him more credit if he actually owned up to his former bigotry and apologized for it like Strom Thurmond. This revisionist attempt to portray himself as a civil rights leader in the 60s while minimizing the accomplishments of real civil rights leaders is desperate and insulting at the highest level and deserves a thorough de-bunking.
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