ABC News’ Michael Falcone reports:
Critics pounced on Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour on Monday for comments he made in an interview with the Weekly Standard in which he appeared to downplay the tension of the civil rights movement in his home state.
“I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” Barbour told the Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson, who penned a 7,400-word profile of the potential 2012 GOP presidential candidate for the magazine.
In the piece, Barbour seems to have a foggy memory of an event he attended with the civil rights icon, Martin Luther King Jr., in the early 1960’s and credits a pro-segregation group with helping to integrate the public schools of his hometown, Yazoo City, Miss. without violence.
“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,” Barbour said in the interview. “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.”
The statements made Barbour an instant target of progressive bloggers, the president of the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP as well as a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee.
“He’s not ready for prime time or not ready for the 21st century,” DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan tweeted on Monday. “Either way, it’s disqualifying.”
Sevugan was not only referring to Barbour’s comments about the Citizens Council group, but also his recollection of the MLK rally.
“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,” Barbour said.
When asked to describe the event, the governor replied, “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.”
Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP called Barbour’s comments
A spokesman for the governor declined to comment, but insisted that the governor is not a racist, according to the Web site, Talking Points Memo.
But the quotes foreshadow serious challenges ahead for Barbour should he decide to run in 2012 against the country’s first African American president. They seem to be part of a pattern of remarks that critics have characterized as racially insensitive.
Barbour, for example, defended Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell when he declared April as “Confederate History Month” in the state without acknowledging the role of slavery.
“To me, it's a sort of feeling that it's a nit, that it is not significant,” Barbour said in a CNN interview, “It’s trying to make a big deal out of something doesn't amount to diddly.”