There’s a piece this week at the Weekly Standard on Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who might well be a GOP presidential candidate, which mostly presents a good picture of a capable, competent conservative who is doing a good job running a state with lots of problems.
And naturally, just like the Standard’s earlier story on Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels went from a very positive portrayal of a potential presidential candidate erupted into a firestorm surrounding his concept of a “truce” on social issues while the nation gets its fiscal house in order, the piece on Barbour has now generated a controversy over what on a first reading would seem a relatively innocuous story about integration in the schools of Yazoo City, his boyhood home.
This, of course, was inevitable. With the Left’s current president already largely a failed one, Charles Krauthammer’s inexplicable Comeback Kid foolishness aside, the only hope Democrats have of staving off an even bigger electoral holocaust in 2012 than the one they suffered last month is to tear down each and every potential Republican standard bearer. We’ve seen the all-out assaults on Sarah Palin since the day she was introduced to the American public, the insults hurled at Jim DeMint are ubiquitous, the unmitigated hatred shown Chris Christie by the professional left and the entitled public employee union aristocracy actually has helped to build his profile and the demonization of Newt Gingrich is so de rigeur at this point that no one even notices it anymore.
So now it’s Barbour’s turn.
This is what the Left has seized upon in the Weekly Standard piece, in which proof is found that Mississippi’s governor is a flaming racist.
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. As deadline day approached reporters flocked to Yazoo City from the three national television networks, the wire services, most large metropolitan newspapers, and several newspapers from England and France.
“The only problem I remember was,” Jordan told me, “we had all these reporters staying here from all over the world, and we didn’t have a bar in town! So we set one up in the library.”
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.”
Jeppie saw the policy of the city’s white leaders not as capitulation to the federal government but as resignation to the inevitable. “We’re gonna make the most of this,” he told Morris. “It won’t be any fun. We don’t have many newcomers, and it’s hard to leave here no matter what happens. We’re not gonna have any mass exodus, black or white. . . . We don’t have much other choice.”
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.”
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.”
One of many lefty wags screaming bloody murder about the passage is Think Progress’ Matt Yglesias, who howls that in 1955 the Yazoo chapter of the White Citizens’ Council was staunchly opposed to school integration. And that’s enormous news, because in 1955 integration was all the rage throughout the South.
What Yglesias neglects to mention is that Haley Barbour was eight years old in 1955. And 1955 was 14 years before Barbour’s brother Jeppie became a Republican mayor of Yazoo City.
Lots of things change in 14 years. It appears Yazoo City did.
But because 41 years ago Barbour’s recollection of school integration in Yazoo City, which third parties verify went off without much trouble, and the rest of the civil rights movement hitting the town wasn’t all that big a deal he’s got to be a racist. After all, the only narrative of the civil rights struggle in Mississippi – or anywhere else in the South – is the one which involves the Klan and dead people. There could be no islands of civility anywhere in the 1960’s in the South, you know.
This is offensive stuff to anyone in the South, obviously. While racial discrimination and strife are a sorry part of our history, they don’t solely define this region. And the idea that any Southern whites in their 50’s or 60’s are automatically disqualified from anything other than a hair shirt where race is concerned is nothing but bigotry on the part of the Left. It’s a classic example of their failing to walk the talk of tolerance, an example easily duplicated every time the Southern Poverty Law Center opens its institutional mouth in an effort to drum up money and attention.
Whether Haley Barbour is ultimately qualified to be President or not is something we’ll start finding out about next year. Whether he’s a racist because he doesn’t recall his adolescence and young adulthood as a collection of scenes from Mississippi Burning, we can dispense with right now. Nothing Barbour has said is any more racially offensive than what we’ve put up with from our current president and his attorney general.
Yglesias and the rest of the ankle-biters in the Nutroots should shut up about racism. Enough already.
UPDATE: Barbour addressed the controversy surrounding the Yazoo City desegregation earlier today…
“My point was my town rejected the Ku Klux Klan, but nobody should construe that to mean I think the town leadership were saints, either,” Barbour said in a statement. “Their vehicle, called the ‘Citizens Council,’ is totally indefensible, as is segregation.”
Naturally, that’s not good enough. Someone named Hari Sevugan, who is the Democrat National Committee’s spokesman, went on Twitter to trash Barbour because he admitted he was more interested – as a 15-year old! – in watching girls than listening to Martin Luther King when the latter spoke in Yazoo City in 1962.
“He’s not ready for prime time or not ready for the 21st century – either way it’s disqualifying,” went the message.
Of course, Barbour is disqualified from seeking high office. Charlie Rangel, Barney Frank, Maxine Waters and Harry Reid are not, according to the Democrat National Committee.
Why would anyone of quality put themselves in position to be judged thus?