Barbour Spokesman on White Citizens’ Councils: ‘That Doesn’t Sound Like a Racist to Me’

TPM writer Eric Kleefeld spoke with Gov. Haley Barbour’s official spokesman, Dan Turner, about Barbour’s statements in the Weekly Standard praising the segregationist “Citizens’ Councils.” To recap, here’s the quote from the interview:

“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.”

Dan Turner, following a tried and true right wing strategy for responding to these kinds of incidents, went on the attack — and denied that the Citizens’ Councils were racist organizations: Barbour Spokesman: Mississippi Gov. Is Not Racist.

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.”

What does he mean by manipulate it, I asked?

“Your questions are very angular, let’s say that,” said Turner. “You have a very specific point that you’re trying to drive at, and you’re trying to paint the governor as a racist. And nothing could be further from the truth.”

I then responded that I was not asking about whether Barbour is a racist, but was asking about whether it is true or not that the group he praised was a racist organization?

“It was an organization in Yazoo City that was, you know, a group of the town leaders and business people,” Turner responded, then referring back to Barbour’s comment. “And they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. And that doesn’t sound like a racist to me. Does it to you?”

Turner made it a lot worse with this statement. It’s a trivial matter to show that the Citizens’ Councils were repellent white supremacist organizations, and their current incarnation, the Council of Conservative Citizens, is every bit as bad — if no longer as powerful.

And I don’t believe Turner doesn’t know this. How could he not know? It’s as if they just can’t help themselves.

The White Citizens’ Councils usually refrained from terrorizing and murdering black people like the Klan did, because they were businessmen. A permanent underclass of low-cost, low-maintenance servants and manual laborers was very valuable to them. So instead of killing African Americans, they just denied them education and opportunities.

Unless, of course, they happened to be wearing their Klan robes — because, contrary to Barbour’s whitewashed narrative, there was a lot of crossover between the CC and the KKK.

African Americans who were seen as being too supportive of desegregation, voting rights, or other perceived threats to whites’ supremacy found themselves and their family members unemployed in many instances; whites who supported civil rights for African Americans were not immune from finding this happening to them as well. Members of the Citizens’ Council were sometimes Klansmen, and the more influential the Citizens’ Council member, the more influence he had with the Klan. In fact, the WCC was even referred to during the civil rights era as “an uptown Klan,” “a white collar Klan,” “a button-down Klan,” and “a country club Klan.” The rationale for these nicknames was that it appeared that sheets and hoods had been discarded and replaced by suits and ties. Much like the Klan, WCC members held documented white supremacist views and involved themselves in racist activities. They more often held leadership in civic and political organizations, however, which enabled them to legitimize discriminatory practices aimed at non-whites.

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