Thursday, December 23, 2010

EDITORIAL >>Huckabee vs. Barbour

Hoping to fortify his credentials as the next Southern hope for the Republican Party, our neighboring governor, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, gave an extensive interview this month to the Weekly Standard, the conservative Washington journal that catapulted Sarah Palin into the national limelight and did so much for Texas Governor George W. Bush.

The story was to set the table for Haley’s announcement early in the new year that he would be a candidate for president in 2012. He has been everywhere across the South this year helping Republicans and burnishing his name.

Arkansans will remember his coming to Little Rock in June to embrace Jim Keet at Keet’s kickoff fundraiser for governor. Keet praised Barbour’s leadership and Barbour touted Keet as the state’s next governor. You may remember how that turned out.

After the glowing Weekly Standard article about the rich Mississippian, we can say this about his presidential prospects: Haley Barbour is no Mike Huckabee.

Huckabee has been stricken with foot-in-mouth disease more than almost any major politician around, but it usually came about when he tried to be funny or clever. He would never have committed the faux pas that Barbour did in his Weekly Standard interview.

Huckabee grew up in the South in the same era as Barbour, when the walls of segregation were crumbling under judicial and congressional mandates. Hope, Ark., by all accounts, was not as bad as Yazoo City, Miss., but Huckabee has never defended white supremacy or the political leadership of that era.

He has, actually, often been quite eloquent and we think earnest in condemning the efforts by political leaders and the social order to prevent equal justice for African-Americans. We remember his well-spoken words at the 40th anniversary of the desegregation of Central High School at Little Rock.

Not Haley Barbour. He told his interviewer that things were not nearly as bleak for blacks in Mississippi back in the ‘50s and ‘60s as people made it seem, and he had special praise for the White Citizens Councils, the white-supremacy organization that sprang up in Mississippi in the 1950s to resist the integration of schools, business and other institutions. He said the business leaders of his community came together as the Citizens Council and headed off a revival of the Ku Klux Klan.

That much was true. The White Citizens Councils were to be a country club KKK. They would eschew violence by using economic and political reprisals to save segregation. They didn’t wear robes and identified themselves openly. But the Citizens Council’s organizing manifesto stated its aims rather clearly: The Southern institution of segregation was to be protected at all costs short of violence, and if that did not work the Council could not be blamed if people then had to resort to violence.

Many will remember the Citizens Councils in Arkansas, led by Jim Johnson, Amis Guthridge, Rev. Wesley Pruden and Dr. Malcolm Taylor.

We remember the halcyon moments of the Capital Citizens Council, which was the Pulaski County branch headed by Guthridge, a Little Rock lawyer. When the “freedom riders” from eastern colleges were arriving in Mississippi in the summer of 1962 to conduct freedom schools and to get blacks registered to vote, the Citizens Council started its “Reverse Freedom Rides.”

Guthridge and Rev. Pruden would call a news conference at the Trailways Bus Station in Little Rock, where one of them would give bus tokens and a ten-dollar bill to a black mother and her eight or ten children and put them on a bus to Hyannis Port, Mass., which was the home of President John F. Kennedy.

A grinning Guthridge then would make a flowery tongue-in-cheek speech about how the Citizens Council was sending this wonderful family to the Kennedy compound, where they would be accepted, taken to the country club and given a glorious future. The media stopped coming after two such events.

To his evident surprise, Gov. Barbour’s praise of the white supremacists in his hometown was the part of the article that got attention. Seeing his presidential hopes vanishing, he issued a statement this week saying he did not mean to praise the citizens councils.

They were wrong and segregation was wrong, he said. Actually, what he said was that the Yazoo Citizens Council members were not “saints.” But he did say that it was a “painful” era, particularly for blacks who were “persecuted.” He might have added, “and murdered.”

It was not far from Yazoo City and during Barbour’s formative years that Medgar Evers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael H. Schwerner and Emmett Till met their deaths at the hands of community leaders. In every instance, community leaders rallied around the murderers.

Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy visiting his grandmother, was tortured, murdered and thrown into the Pearl River for being rumored to have whistled at a white woman.

Whatever his faults, Mike Huckabee was never an apologist for apartheid. He is still the GOP’s Southern hope for 2012—if it has one.