This is just the kind of defense that will have other 2012 Republican hopefuls rubbing their hands in glee, from TPM's Eric Kleefeld.
I just spoke with Dan Turner, the official spokesman for Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS), who responded in strong terms to criticism of Barbour's recent praise for the segregationist Citizens Council groups of the Civil Rights era.
"You're trying to paint the governor as a racist," he said. "And nothing could be further from the truth."
So, I asked Turner, does Barbour have any comment on the Citizen Council movement's basis in white supremacy, and its work of launching economic boycotts to cut off employment and business for African-Americans who became active for civil rights -- including that notable occasion in Yazoo City?
"Gov. Barbour did not comment on the Citizens Council movement's history," Turner responded. "He commented on the business community in Yazoo City, Mississippi."
I asked further about the Citizen Council movement's white supremacist activities, such as the boycotts in Barbour's hometown. "I'm not aware that that's accurate," Turner said. "I'm not aware that he [Barbour] has any statement on that. I'm aware of the statement that he made in context of how he made it."
After being pressed further on whether Barbour's comments about the Citizens Councils were accurate, Turner said: "I'm aware of what the governor said in this interview. I'm not gonna get into the business of trying to twist what the governor said, or to manipulate it."
Except, of course, as Josh points out Barbour did comment on the Citizens' Council movement. In the Weekly Standard profile that spurred this discussion, Barbour said "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 might not think of himself as a racist, but his apologia and revisionism for the white supremacist Citizens' Council suggests otherwise. It's also drawn fire from the NAACP and historians.
he president of the state's NAACP organization is calling his remarks "offensive" and akin to revisionist history.
"It is quite disturbing that the governor of the state would take an approach to the history of this state," said Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP. "It's beyond disturbing -- it's offensive that he would take that approach to the history of this state to many African-Americans who had to suffer as a result of the policies and practices of the Citizens Council."
Robert Mickey, an associate political science professor at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, said that Barbour is correct in asserting that the Citizens Councils were often against Klan organizations forming in their communities. It wasn't, however, to promote racial integration; instead, they were concerned that such groups would spoil the economic environment, and in turn, Citizens Councils used economic intimidation to further segregation.
"This was an organization that spread very quickly across the South, directly in response to Brown v. Board of Education," said Mickey in an interview with The Huffington Post Monday. "Usually they were against violence because of its harm to economic development; firms wouldn't want to relocate to places that had a lot of violence. So their tools of slowing down the South's democratization was to use economic intimidation. ... They intimidated black parents from signing petitions demanding that school districts be desegregated, sometimes by printing the signatories in local newspapers, which oftentimes led to the signatures being recanted because the parents understood and feared the consequences of being publicly outed like that. So Barbour's right -- on one hand, they often helped out on the Klan, and a lot of times they were interested in deterring white mob violence. But Northerners are right that it's like the Klan."
Joseph Crespino, an associate professor of history at Emory University, also noted a particular incident in Yazoo City undermining Barbour's claims. "One of the things the Citizen Council would do is carry out economic harassment -- sometimes physical intimidation -- against local blacks," he said. "There was this well-known incident in Yazoo City in the 1950s where a handful of black parents tried to file a lawsuit against a local public school. They lost their jobs because they filed a lawsuit and they participated in the local civil rights movement. So it's well-documented that the kind of harassment that blacks faced when they tried to desegregate the schools there in Yazoo City."
Perhaps the Yazoo City Citizens' Council did indeed keep the KKK out of the area, but given the history of the organization and the economic and social intimidation it inflicted on African Americans, its hands were far from clean. It was a white supremacist group. This isn't the first time Barbour has gotten in trouble over his adherence to a whitewashed past.