Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour released a statement today clarifying recent remarks made in an interview with The Weekly Standard that many perceived as downplaying the hardships blacks experienced during the civil rights era.
Here is Barbour's statement.
When asked why my hometown in Mississippi did not suffer the same racial violence when I was a young man that accompanied other towns' integration efforts, I accurately said the community leadership wouldn't tolerate it and helped prevent violence there. 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. Their vehicle, called the "Citizens Council," is totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country, and especially African Americans who were persecuted in that time.In the Weekly Standard interview, Barbour called the Citizens Council an "organization of town leaders" that people from the North incorrectly thought of as being akin to the KKK.
He added that in his hometown of Yazoo City, the Citizens Council "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."
Of course, not everyone agrees with Barbour's initial argument that the KKK and the Citizens Council were so fundamentally different.
"The most generous thing you can say about the Citizens Councils is that they argued for using legal (boycotts) and extra-legal means of defending White Supremacy in the South as opposed to the paramilitary and terrorist violence of the Klan," writes Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall. "Whether that distinction always held up in practice is debatable."
For more context, Surge Desk offers a few quick points about the Citizens Council of America.
- The Citizens Council was founded as the White Citizens' Council in 1954.
- The group was headquartered in St. Louis.
- Major figures for the group include Robert "Tut" Patterson, a local plantation owner, and Robert B. Patterson, a current Council of Conservative Citizens member and former editor of its publication, The Citizens Informer.
- In August 1955, estimated membership exceeded 60,000 people.
- As the civil rights era began to intensify and school desegregation increased, one action taken by the group was to set up exclusive "council schools" for white children.
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