"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. 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."
I had some fun with this on Facebook, posting the following:
Governor Barbour as president after a trip to Afghanistan: "You ever heard of the Taliban? Back home they think it's like al Qaeda. Over here it's really like an organization of town leaders."
A good bit of back and forth ensued, so I thought it would be a good time to crank the blog back up to delve into this issue a bit more.
If you question whether or not Barbour's portrayal of the Citizen's Council might actually be accurate, go over to Tom Freeland's site and read his excellent work here and here. Then go over to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and search their Sovereignty Commission files on their website. (The general page is here, and the Yazoo County folder is here.) As a side note, MDAH never gets enough credit for putting this information online.
Now, what does all of this mean? Yeah, Barbour tried to backtrack from his statement by releasing another one. And the conservative blogosphere outside of Mississippi has decided his presidential campaign is over before it really began. But really, what's the larger lesson here? What's the takeaway?
In my humble opinion, it is this: Haley Barbour, current head of the Republican Governor's Association, has been widely regarded by GOP leaders across the nation as the next Republican president or vice-president. But until Barbour makes a decision about who he is, he's not going to be either of those things. Barbour's dilemma is, in a way, the dilemma of the Republican Party as a whole. The Republican Party since Nixon has had two types: those who go to the Citizens Council meetings to elicit votes and are genuinely ashamed of it, and those who go but aren't.
There's a line from the Avett Brothers' song "Head Full of Doubt" that applies here: "Decide what to be, and go be it."
The Republican Party, if it is to morph into something viable beyond the expiration date of Nixon's Southern Strategy, is going to have to quit playing footsie with racists. Any Mississippi politician who wishes to be taken seriously on the national level is going to have to display a commitment to understanding that what went on in this state was horrible, despicable, shameful and indefensible. They'll have to understand it and live it. Mississippi Republicans do neither, and it's past time they started.
In closing, I'm going to leave you with two things. First, an article from the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report from Fall 2004 in which they explore the links between politicians and the CCC. (Guess who's featured?) Second, a picture from the CCC's annual convention at Black Hawk, MS, in 2003: