Gov. Barbour On Segregated South: It Wasn't "That Bad"

December 20, 2010 12:14 pm ET — Alan Pyke

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) loves to rewrite the history of segregation in the South when talking to journalists. In a lengthy new Weekly Standard profile, though, Barbour really outdid himself:

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."

Often mentioned in 2012 presidential talk, Gov. Barbour will have to persuade voters to support a man with a Confederate flag in his office, who cites Jim "Segregation Is The Law Of God" Eastland as his first political inspiration, and who famously warned an aide who made racist comments that "he would be reincarnated as a watermelon and placed at the mercy of blacks." But that's an easy task, compared to convincing the country that Jim Crow was not "that bad" after all.

UPDATE: In the profile, Barbour credits the non-violent nature of school integration in his hometown of Yazoo City, MS to the local "Citizens Council." As Matt Yglesias points out, that should seal Barbour's reputation: the Citizens Council in Yazoo City led a boycott of NAACP supporters in town, and Citizens Councils around the south published a newsletter with headlines like "Race Equality Is 'Scientific Hoax.'" But at least they were non-violent:

Citizens' Councils explicitly denounced Ku Klux Klan style violence, instead making their case for white supremacy by arguing for new statutes and forwarding mandates to reverse racial integration.