Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour Clarifies Controversial Civil Rights Comments

Dec 21, 2010 12:08pm

ABC News’ Michael Falcone reports:

A day after Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour sparked criticism with comments he made about his experiences growing up in the south during the civil rights era, he sought to clarify those remarks, calling that period of history a “difficult and painful era.”

“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," Barbour said in a statement on Tuesday. "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.”

At issue are comments he made in an interview with the Weekly Standard in which he appeared to downplay the tension of the civil rights movement in Mississippi. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” Barbour told the Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson.

The  governor went on to credit the Citizens’ Council, a group that has been viewed as pro-segregationist, with helping to peacefully integrate the public schools in his home town, Yazoo City, Miss. Barbour also seemed to have little recall of an event he attended in the 1960’s with civil rights icon, Martin Luther King Jr.

“We just sat on our cars, watching the girls, talking, doing what boys do,” Barbour told the Weekly Standard. “We paid more attention to the girls than to King.”

The remarks drew a sharp rebuke from the president of the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP, members of the left-leaning blogosphere and a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, among others.

Up until now, the Barbour team’s only response was an interview between the governor’s spokesman, Dan Turner, and reporter Eric Kleefeld of Talking Points Memo.

“You're trying to paint the governor as a racist,” Turner told Kleefeld on Monday. “And nothing could be further from the truth.”

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