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Barbour Swims Upstream Towards a Bridge Too Far

The Mississippi governor's strangely muted recall of the nature of the Citizens Council in his hometown disqualifies him from seeking the presidency.

by
Kyle-Anne Shiver

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December 23, 2010 - 12:00 am
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Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour may run for president in 2012.  If I were his wife, I would put every ounce of my marital capital on the line in my fight to stop him.  Governor Barbour would be, in my opinion, attempting a swim upstream, against ghastly, frigid currents, towards a bridge beyond too far.

The reasons why this is so ought to be obvious to any fifth grader with even an ounce of worldly knowledge and a tiny grain of common sense.

I sincerely doubt that Haley Barbour holds any genuinely racist beliefs.  But he has made and continues to make comments –  in a most Southern, Southern drawl — that have made even this native Southerner cringe.  The most recent remarks by the governor were made in a formal interview with the Weekly Standard, which was published a couple of days ago.  Already Governor Barbour’s questionable take on his town’s “Citizens Council” has been pilloried from coast to coast in scores of publications.  In addition, past comments have been unearthed, one actually putting the words “watermelon” and “blacks” in the same sentence.  Enough said.

Like Governor Barbour, I am as Southern as they come, born and bred in Atlanta a mere two generations removed from a plantation in Mississippi.  I’m four years younger than Mr. Barbour, which gives me an even better excuse for being too young to have been a segregationist, much less a slaveholder or plantation mistress.  But even I have strong, vivid memories of the Civil Rights movement and of the Jim Crow segregation that spawned it.

Two of the first words I learned to read as a young child were “white” and “colored.”  Whether at the public park water fountains or the restrooms of any public facility, those words were emblazoned across the South in bold, stark print.  Those words are still painful to me in ways that might be hard to fathom by my generational peers from other regions.  And I’m white.  As far as I’m concerned, one would need to have the sensibility of an orange or be born after 1970 not to feel a sharp pain in his soul over Jim Crow and the whole host of indignities to real human beings because of it.

Governor Haley Barbour, I’ve read, has been a good public servant in a state that has had grave problems, many of them stemming from Katrina devastation.  He is currently the chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.  He has served ably in both positions and deserves recognition.  But a run for president to unseat the first black president?  Hailing from Mississippi?  With a record for misconstruing the enormous shame on the soul of the old South?

Sorry, he won’t get my primary vote if he decides to run.  In fact, I already question his bearings and feel the need to set a few things straight because he has so blatantly muddied the Civil Rights movement waters.

Mr. Barbour was born in 1947, too late to be held accountable for continuing to uphold a post-Civil-War era code of laws.  But I’m even younger, was born in 1951, and the Civil Rights era still amounts to far, far, more than “diddly” to me.  I clearly remember the tales of my grandmother’s childhood on the family plantation in Mississippi, where black tenant farmers and their children lived lives completely reminiscent of their slave ancestors.  I was in at least the third grade before it dawned on me that the War Between the States had happened nearly a century before I was born, and I could finally rest easily knowing that some guy named Sherman wasn’t actually down the road a piece burning everything in sight.  Our parents and grandparents spoke of that war as though it were still going on or had happened the day before yesterday.

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