I keep thinking that somewhere along the way certain political folks in the Old South and other places will finally get it. What is the "it" I refer to? Nothing less than the original sin of the United States--racism.
They need to get that it was a bad time in America when racism was institutionalized. That you can't sugar-coat that. Can't pretend it wasn't hurtful and degrading and viscous and plain wrong on all levels.
I keep thinking that the strained and pretzel-twisted il-logic of trying to minimize the brutal fact of slavery and later segregation will sink in for all major elected officials who happen to be white-skinned. But, somehow, every few months somebody prominent makes an ass of himself and this causes me to seriously question how people can continue to think and speak like bigots like its still Jim Crow Days down South and nothing has changed in race relations.
(to right: Barbour the Not-So Magnificent!)
Is it some cultural blindness that effects people like Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi? Read this short portion of a blog in today's "New York Times" and tell me "does this sound like an elected official in 2010"? The original remarks about the governor's home town of Yazoo City were made to a reporter (Andrew Freguson) from Britain's "Weekly Standard".
"In the magazine’s profile of the second-term governor, Mr. Barbour suggests that the 1960s — when people lost life and limb battling for equal rights for black citizens — were not a terribly big deal in Yazoo City. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” he said. He heard Dr. King speak at the county fairgrounds in 1962 but can’t remember the speech. “We just sat on our cars, watching the girls, talking, doing what boys do,” he said. “We paid more attention to the girls than to King.”
Proving I suppose that the sex instinct in young Haley overrode the justice instinct. Not exactly Mr. Empathy is he? Sure racism wasn't that bad, Haley. For you!
"And the Citizens Councils were simply right-minded business leaders trying to achieve integration without violence. Thanks to the councils, he said, “we didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”
The truth was of course that the "Citizen's Councils" were every bit on the same wave-length as the Klu Klux Klan. To pretend otherwise is to distort history. To show their true colors, here is some background and an example of what The Citizen's Councils were publishing in 1960 (courtesy of the Jackson, Tennessee Newspaper "The Sun", website.)
The White Citizens' Council was born in Greenwood, Miss., shortly after the 1954-55 Brown vs. Board of Education decisions were rendered. Sister branches rapidly surfaced throughout Mississippi and other Southern states.
Leading citizens joined. The goal was to maintain segregation.
Tennessee's relatively ineffective version of the citizens' council was called the Tennessee Federation for Constitutional Government, of which Madison County had a chapter. The group placed advertisements in The Sun in the 1960s in support of segregation. One was an editorial from another newspaper that said, "The Negro today is the best treated human being in the United States."
The Madison chapter also held at least one meeting covered by The Sun. According to the story, a Memphis attorney called for prosecuting Jackson's bus company for integrating its buses and called the 1954 school desegregation by the U.S. Supreme Court "a judicial monstrosity."
At the same meeting, according to the article, District Attorney David P. Murray called on the audience to "help maintain our Southern way of life" and added, "Let's fight for it to the bitter end." According to The Sun's story, 200 people attended the meeting, including a circuit judge, an American Legion commander and the sheriff of Haywood County.
Citizens' councils used economic and political pressure to achieve their ends. The election of Ross Barnett as governor of Mississippi, on the promise of defending the state's traditions - which meant white supremacy - was one display of the council's success.
Below are excerpts from a pamphlet from the Association of Citizens' Councils titled "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.
... We are certainly not ashamed of our traditions, our conservative beliefs, nor our segregated way of life."
Sources: The Jackson Sun; "History of the Modern Civil Rights Movement;" The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture
Speaking for myself, as just another member of the mongrel breed of North American cur, I should state in fairness that Mr. Barbour has gone to his website to apologize for his remarks. But the fact that he made them in the first place, and the fact that he holds a high position within a major political party, says a lot about how far we still have to go as a nation.
Make no mistake: I am NOT singling out whites in the state of Mississippi or the Old South for that matter. Racism is still coiled up like a rattlesnake in every state in the Union. But I sincerely hope that the Republican voters of the 2012 Primaries lose this guy in the weeds someplace.
But I'm not sure: many GOP voters had parents and grandparents who were Democrats before men like Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy and Andrew Young and women like Rosa Parks organized the groundwork that led to the modern Civil Rights Era. Then they became Republicans, feeling that their ultra-conservative traditions were going to be taken away, as if granting rights to another group diminished theirs. It's tortured logic, of course, but some people were willing to kill for it.
This is America's great sin, North and South, Republican and Democrat. And that sin lives on, if not in the law at least in the spirit of many hearts and minds.
Otherwise how could Haley Barbour ever have gone as far as he has?