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Haley Barbour’s Account Of Civil Rights Era In Mississippi Assailed By NAACP, Historians

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WASHINGTON — Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) has set off a firestorm of controversy over his comments that the civil rights era in his hometown of Yazoo City was not “that bad,” and now, the president of the state’s NAACP organization is calling his remarks “offensive” and akin to revisionist history.

“It is quite disturbing that the governor of the state would take an approach to the history of this state,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP. “It’s beyond disturbing — it’s offensive that he would take that approach to the history of this state to many African-Americans who had to suffer as a result of the policies and practices of the Citizens Council.”

In his interview with The Weekly Standard, Barbour heaps praise on the pro-segregation Citizens Council, which he credits with integrating the Yazoo City public schools without any violence.

“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 fact, if you look at Yazoo City, their approach to integration was very similar to others across the state, where the parents pulled their parents out of the public school system so white children would not have to attend an integrated school system,” responded Johnson. “They established a private school academy which still exists today. The majority of the white citizens of Yazoo County and Yazoo City do not allow their children to attend public education today. That trend happened as a result of the civil rights movement and full integration, and that the struggle that blacks had across the state was the same in Yazoo City as it was across the state.”

Robert Mickey, an associate political science professor at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, said that Barbour is correct in asserting that the Citizens Councils were often against Klan organizations forming in their communities. It wasn’t, however, to promote racial integration; instead, they were concerned that such groups would spoil the economic environment, and in turn, Citizens Councils used economic intimidation to further segregation.

“This was an organization that spread very quickly across the South, directly in response to Brown v. Board of Education,” said Mickey in an interview with The Huffington Post Monday. “Usually they were against violence because of its harm to economic development; firms wouldn’t want to relocate to places that had a lot of violence. So their tools of slowing down the South’s democratization was to use economic intimidation. … They intimidated black parents from signing petitions demanding that school districts be desegregated, sometimes by printing the signatories in local newspapers, which oftentimes led to the signatures being recanted because the parents understood and feared the consequences of being publicly outed like that. So Barbour’s right — on one hand, they often helped out on the Klan, and a lot of times they were interested in deterring white mob violence. But Northerners are right that it’s like the Klan.”

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