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On Barbour’s Praise of the Citizens Councils


Rick Perlstein has a typically brilliant analysis.   Read the whole etc., but a preview:

What happened between Brown v. Board of Education and that January day in 1970 comprises some of the most monstrous inhumanity in the cruel annals of American history. Recently, in a cover feature in the conservative Weekly Standard on his presidential ambitions, Mississippi governor and fellow Yazoo native Haley Barbour had occasion to reflect on that place, in those years. The best that can be said about his recollection is that it is not 100 percent a lie — just deeply confused, mostly wrong, and indicative above all of a cynical man who has made a lucrative career of exploiting racial trauma when it suited him, or throwing it down a memory hole when it did not; which is to say, an archetypal Dixie conservative.

I especially recommend Perlstein’s post to William Jacobson, who defends Barbour with one of the worst analogies in known human history:

1947 was the year in which the color barrier was broken in Major League Baseball. Prior to Jackie Robinson taking the field, MLB (or whatever it was called at the time) was segregated. Actually, it was more than segregated, it excluded blacks completely.

Using the logic of Matthew Yglesias of Think Progress, who is having his 15 minutes of race card fame, anyone who expresses any measure of praise for the pre-1947 Yankees necessarily would be “expressing affection for a White Supremacist” organization. It would not matter that the praise was for the Yankees’ baseball skills; any expression of anything less than complete condemnation of the Yankees necessarily evidences tolerance for racism because the Yankees were part of a racist system.

This is remarkably silly. While the Yankees were part of an institution that (like many of the time) was racially exclusionary, they were primarily a baseball team; people who remember Joe DiMaggio or Babe Ruth or Bill Dickey or Joe McCarthy or George Pipgras fondly are remembering them because of what they did on the baseball field. Citizens Councils, conversely, existed for essentially the sole purpose of maintaining apartheid. The White Citizens Councils weren’t just a passive “part of a racist system,” they were formed to actively enforce white supremacy and black disenfranchisement. Their ends were the same as the Klan’s, with the only difference being that they favored economic to physical terror. Praising them is like praising the local Klan for handing out free Christmas hams.

In conclusion, given the nature of some of its public officials and their reflexive defenders, I’m puzzled that the GOP’s share of the African-American votes maxes out at about 8%…

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  • c u n d gulag

    I hope this Jacobson clown is able to untie his brain from the pretzel he twisted it into. Thought I’m not sure why. He’s probably never put it to good use anyway.
    I’m a Yankee fan, so I’m prejudiced, but even the most ardent Yankee hater would be hard-pressed to find any comparison between that team and The White Citizens Councils. And no, the Yankees were not the last MLB team to integrate. That was the Red Sox – Pumpsie Green if memory serves me right. And almost a dozen years after Jackie came up.

    • Jay B.

      That’s right. The Yankees were the second to last. The sad irony of course, was that the Giants and Dodgers integrated a decade before the Yanks. And in Boston, the Braves integrated a decade before the Sox and featured the great Sam Jethroe, who was NL rookie of the year in 1950./

      • c u n d gulag

        I’m sure you’ve heard the famous quote about Ellie Howard by Casey. He said he finally got one of ‘them,’ and he got the only one who couldn’t run.
        The nicest way I can put that is that Casey was definitely a man of his time, growing up in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
        The Yanks gave away Vic Power, a Hispanic black man, and a great 1st defensive baseman with a good stick, because he liked to date white women, and was known to be outspoken, so the Yanks traded him to KC and kept Ellie around. Ellie was already married, and was quiet. He was a Hell of a player, and it would have been interesting to see the career he’s have had if he didn’t start so late, and also have Yogi in front of him. Yogi always played.

        Also, the reason the NL All Star teams started to beat the AL every year, was that the AL stayed predominantly white much later.

        • Alan in SF

          The Washington Redskins were, if memory serves, the last professional sports team to integrate, holding out for a decade and a half after Jackie Robinson before the threat of government action forced them to sign a black player in 1962. Individual sports team owners, like the Skins’ Marshall, had considerably more license to be racist (excuse me, to act in a racially discriminatory way, whatever may have been in their heart) than corporations.

          • Alan in SF

            OK, not counting hockey.

  • Brad Potts

    Citizens Councils, conversely, existed for essentially the sole purpose of maintaining apartheid.

    But they were SOOOO good at it. Why can’t you just appreciate their talents and ignore all that “racism” stuff.

    • Malaclypse

      I’m amazed that, given the numerous similarities between White Citizens Councils and Major League Baseball, that members of the former never had trading cards issued.

      • Captain Splendid

        You need your own blog.

      • RobW

        Their predecessors did publish some commemorative postcards of their community events.


      • PHB

        This reminds me of the defenses of Hitler that the holocaust deniers used to throw up, claiming that Hitler wasn’t a racist (!) because he was anti-semitic and Judaism isn’t a race. Only in Hitler’s case his entire theory of anti-semitism was based on the premise that Jews were a race.

        Barbor is clearly a racist. Only someone who was both a racist and very stupid could have said what he did. Whether he actually believes in racism or is merely pandering to racist prejudices to get elected, the result is the same and we should consider him a racist.

  • mark f

    Jacobson, with what he thinks is a hard-hitting dig:

    [I]f [Barbour] were a Southern Democrat during the 1960s he almost certainly would have supported segregation.

    Indeed, Col. Mustard, indeed. Given that the Colonel teaches law at an Ivy and earned his own JD at an even more prestigious Ivy, one might be inclined to give him credit for cleverness for inserting that “almost.” But I don’t think the “almost” is there for lawyerly opacity as much as it’s out of giving undue credit to Barbour. But the Prof. Col. Mustard Jacobson is actually right, albeit accidentally:

    A Southern Democrat in the 1960s would’ve almost certainly supported segregation, while a Southern Republican in the 1960s would have certainly supported segregation.

    • TT

      And it was surely just a coincidence that, in the wake of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, nearly all of those ardently pro-segregation Southern Democrats ended up switching to the Republican Party, no?

    • catclub

      Somebody did not read the Perlstein article.
      Jeppie Barbour ( Haley’s older brother) was a notable trendsetter in the Mississippi delta for joining the GOP. Now why was that?

      • Eric k

        Bingo, the Barbour family were Democrats who became Republicans in 1964, wonder what it could have been that made them change parties…

    • Alan in SF

      Actually, a Southern Democrat would have immediately become a Southern Republican once the Democratic party supported integration and the Republican party came to oppose it.

  • Walt

    Christ, you have to be some kind of moral monster if you can make me think you’re being unfair to Yankees fans.

    • mark f

      Relax; he was only praising the Yankees for their record on national security.

    • Joe

      believe me, if Scott is pro-Yankee in any way, the other side is pretty bad.

    • hv

      The Yankees use economic power to get their way over less fortunate rivals, so did the Council.

  • Bill Murray

    The Southern White Supremacists hated the Yankees, so there’s no way they were white supremacists.

    But I hate the Yankees, too, so I guess that makes me a Southern White Supremacist. I even live in the South (of Dakota). I need to gain some weight and join the Republican party. I am so disappointed in myself.

    • hv

      If you can’t gain weight, you might consider becoming the mouthpiece for a Republican who can.

  • charles pierce

    Of course, there are those of us who believe there should be a damn asterisk on every baseball record set prior to 1947.

  • DrDick

    I think Mr. Jacobson should be forced to live in the South of the White Citizens’ Councils for 5 years and see how he feels about it then. Given that they did not consider Jews as white at that time (even lynched a few earlier in the century), I think he might have a different perspective

    • catclub

      Actually, the WCC were so scared of the negroes that they made special efforts to include Jewish and Catholic (white) businessmen in order to have complete white solidarity. That was what made them _so much better_ than the klan.

  • Aidan

    Scott, you make the unfortunate error of assuming that William Jacobson is remotely in touch with reality and responsive to reason and well-made arguments. He’s hopeless.

  • John

    Can’t we use “segregation” or “Jim Crow” or “white supremacy” instead of “apartheid,” which is a term with a specific meaning which specifically refers to South Africa? Otherwise, great post.

    • DrDick

      True. Apartheid was modeled on US and Canadian Indian policy, not on our treatment of blacks (The National Party actually sent representatives to study the reservation systems of the two countries as models in designing their system).

      • Even though it is not historically accurate I like “apartheid” in the context of the American South because it gets to the heart of the loathsome racial norms in place during the Jim Crow era. Nobody seriously disputes that apartheid was despicable, but there are plenty of people who are prepared to say that the US wasn’t so bad. Some of them are Haley Barbour.

        • John

          If it’s factually inaccurate, how does it get to the heart of those norms?

        • hv

          The risk of rhetorical back-fire outweighs whatever benefits you are imagining about penetrating the heart of loathsome norms. And many other choices can penetrate that heart to a sufficient degree.

  • Warren Terra

    Sometime back in the 80s, in his great comic strip Bloom County, Berkeley Breathed had his young scientist invent a ray gun that turned the target Black, and launched a mission to zap the ambassador of Apartheid South Africa with it, in the hopes that the ambassador might figure a few things out through personal experience that more reasonable people had been able to realize through observation and a bit of common sense. Sounds like we still need that gun.

    • hv

      Also, a pregnancy gun for male politicians.

  • Not to mention that is a funny way to spell “Brooklyn Dodgers”.

  • Jon H

    “What happened between Brown v. Board of Education and that January day in 1970 comprises some of the most monstrous inhumanity in the cruel annals of American history.”

    Am I the only one who thinks this is exaggerating a wee bit? I’d think it wouldn’t be too hard to come up with a longish list of monstrous inhumanity in American history, among which this looks like small beer.

    • Jay B.

      Feel free to start. Having the state sponsor outright rejection of your enfranchisement and equality in everything from voting to going to the same schools while beating the fuck out of you when you ask for the inalienable rights that were granted to you in the Constitution AND a that Supreme Court ruling, more than 90 years after slavery officially ended, well, like I said: Go ahead. There are a few. Not many more than that.

      • Jon H

        Um, slavery itself?

        Trail of tears and treatment of Native Americans in general? I don’t recall reading about a band of African-American high school students being pursued by the Army through four states in the wild northwest as they sought refuge in Canada, etc.

        The Philippines?

        Firebombing in WW2? Atom bombs?


        As bad as it was between 1947 and 1970, I’m afraid I don’t see it as ranking in the same degree of “monstrous inhumanity”. Not far below, certainly, but definitely below.

        • Assume for a moment that you’re totally right, that it does indeed rank JUST SLIGHTLY below those injustices.

          What do you win?

        • hv

          If we dropped an A-bomb on Afghanistan now, knowing how Nagasaki and Hiroshima turned out… I would regard it as a greater outrage even if the mega-tonnage of explosive damage measured technically less than those bombs. Sometimes, the knowing part is the worst part.

          It scares me when people default to the cave-person method of measuring harms.

          Willing malfeasance counts for a lot more in my book, and the conduct after Brown v. Board clearly qualifies.

        • Jay B.

          Note that I said “there are a few” and pretty much thought of exactly the few that you mentioned. So “some of” the most monstrous events in America’s “cruel” history hardly sounds like a stretch or even apposite of what you are saying.

          It was fucking apartheid.

  • charles pierce

    And, my god, is this a stupid argument.
    Let it go, or ask Myrlie Evers what she thinks about it all.

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