What a difference a week makes.
Just before Christmas, Mississippi’s fiery and fiercely proud Southern governor and potential Republican presidential candidate, Haley Barbour, proclaimed that the notorious white citizen’s council was not so bad after all. In 1954 “The White Citizens Council” movement was founded in Mississippi, shortly after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregated public schools, and was dedicated to political activities opposing civil rights — notably boycotts of pro-civil rights individuals in Barbour’s hometown. It was distinguished from the Klan by the public self-identification of its members, and its image of clean cut upstanding citizens donned in suits and ties as opposed to white robes and nooses wielded by the Klan.
In an interview with The Weekly Standard, Barbour defended the well known openly racist organization by saying, “You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK,” said Barbour. “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.” Barbour tried to back track from his comments when his remarks erupted into a national media firestorm last week.
This week Barbour is singing a different tune after taking a major media pummeling for his comments and under increasing pressure to do something about the unjust double-life sentencing of two black sisters (the Scott Sisters, Gladys & Jamie) in Mississippi who were convicted of armed robbery (of $11 worth of goods) and who have served 16 years of their sentence so far, he suspended their sentences (on the condition that one sister donate her kidney to the other). In my opinion, as a political observer, and former Republican intern at the RNC when Barbour was Chairman, the Governor knew he had to redeem himself from his ridiculously politically incorrect comments about the “white citizens council” being a beacon of virtue in Mississippi. What better way to prove one is not a “racist” than to suspend the sentences of two black women, convicted on questionable evidence for being involved in a robbery that netted $11?
Here is my point: Everyone in Washington knows that Barbour is interested in running for the presidency in 2012. At the very least he may be hoping for the Veep slot on a GOP ticket with a more moderate candidate like Mitt Romney or Gov. Pawlenty. But Barbour is no political novice and he knows that in order to have a hope and a prayer of running against the nations first black President, he cannot afford to be seen as racially insensitive or intolerant of blacks or others. Thus the crux of his problem when it came to the fate of the Scott sisters.
By suspending their sentences indefinitely Barbour has insulated himself (for the moment) from charges of racism, or allowing cruel and unusual punishment (life sentences) to continue for these two women. The question that everyone will now ask is did he do it because it was the right thing or because it was politically expedient. While none of us can know what is in a man’s heart for sure, last week Gov. Barbour spoke from his heart and what his heart told us is that he is clueless as to the realities of what went on in Mississippi during the Civil Rights era and that he has a lot to learn before he can ask the American people to consider him for the presidency of the United States of America.