"Then" in this case being 1963, when Mississippi's Democratic segregationist Governor Ross Barnett, one of the most notorious of all the Jim Crow era governors, appeared at Western Michigan University and gave an speech which was taped. James Silver, in his famous book Mississippi: The Closed Society (1966 edition) gave a long excerpt from the question-and-answer period.
During the speech itself, Gov. Barnett denounced the now-legendary peaceful pro-civil-rights March on Washington that year as "mob action". Mob action was something Barnett knew about, and he knew that the march was no such thing.
He also offered this Pat Buchanan-esque historical observation:
Hitler offered the people of Germany a short cut to human progress. He gained power by advocating human rights for minority groups.Here's the excerpt that Silver provided:
QUESTION: Mississippi in 1962 paid $275 million in federal taxes and received federal money up to $650 million. Do you consider this an intrusion on state rights?I should point out here that Silver offered this excerpt to his readers as a self-evident illustration of "what a clown Mississippi once elected to her chief office in time of crisis."
BARNETT: I think you're incorrect. You're wholly incorrect in the figures. Wholly incorrect.
QUESTION: Are you against integration in the armed forces where there is no fear of mongrelizing the races?
BARNETT: It's best for both races to be segregated in order to maintain the purity and integrity of both races.
QUESTION: If you are so insistent on state rights, why doesn't Mississippi have civil rights legislation?
BARNETT: Well, we don't need any civil rights legislation in Mississippi. Let me tell you this: The Negroes in Mississippi are a lot better off than in many of the other states. Ninety per cent of the Negroes finishing high school and college remain in Mississippi because they love our way of life. You take Jackson State College there in Jackson. I think it's better equipped than most any other school in Mississippi. They won the national championship in football. And it was my privilege to issue fifty-two certificates of appreciation to the Negroes of the football team. Last December, right in the governor's office — because we spent moremoney on their school facilities than on the whites', in many instances.
QUESTION: I'm wondering if you consider Negroes people in Mississippi.
BARNETT: I would say that the Negroes, the Indians, the Eskimos, and all the whites—ninety per cent of them are against Kennedy in Mississippi.
QUESTION: Who should interpret the Constitution if not the Supreme Court?
BARNETT: The Supreme Court reversed what it had been holding for nearly a hundred years, and said that they would follow the advice of Gunnar Myrdal, who admits he's a socialist, instead of following the law of the land.
QUESTION: Do you condone the use of violence?
BARNETT: I am unalterably opposed to turmoil, bloodshed — and we have practiced it — we've tried to. [This sounds like a Freudian slip - Bruce]
QUESTION: How does a Negro get to be registered [to vote] in Mississippi?
BARNETT: He has the same rights that a white man has to vote in Mississippi, and you'll see that if you go down and watch the registrars. They treat the Negroes just as fairly as they do the white people. [This was horse-poop, as everyone at the time well knew.]
QUESTION: Would you be as willing to address an integrated audience in the South as you are here?
BARNETT: Well, I'd have to get the invitation first and study it a little while.
QUESTION: Why did you attempt to cancel [James] Meredith's graduation?
BARNETT: Because two federal judges said he was not qualified. And the Army said he was a troublemaker. In fact no white man in the United States could have entered Ole Miss withhis qualifications.
QUESTION: The Jews were a minority group in Germany. Do you call what they got human rights or an equal opportunity?
BARNETT: I don't know whether they had equal opportunities or not. I suppose they did [fading away to very faint] ... probably did.
From today's perspective, Barnett sounds a lot like like the typical commentator on FOX News or Republican hate radio.
Silver described Barnett this way:
No account of Mississippi political bankruptcy would be legitimate without passing reference to the symbol of intransigency, Ross Barnett. Unable to succeed himself [as governor], Old Ross began his 1967 gubernatorial campaign about the time of his repudiation in Paul Johnson's inaugural address. He continued to titillate the emotions of frenzied right-wing audiences throughout the country, including crowds drummed up by the Americans for the Preservation of the White Race, and to amuse college groups who came to hear him in order to prove that such a phenomenon really did exist in the twentieth century.Today, of course, all they have to do to hear such specimens of humanity is to flip on the Rush Limbaugh show, head to the Free Republic Web site or watch any random few minutes of FOX News.
The Americans for the Preservation of the White Race were a violent pro-segregation group active in Mississippi during the early 1960s. Today we would call them a Christian terrorist organization.
The main white surpremacist group in Mississippi then was the White Citizens Council. This fine group of Christian white folks still exists today under the name of the Council of Conservative Citizens. Various prominent Republicans, including Senate minority whip Trent Lott and the current Mississippi Republican Governor Haley Barbour have kissed up to the Council in various ways in more recent years. Sad to say, Mississippi previous Democratic Governor even did a bit of such kissing up. So did former Congressman Bob Barr, who is being celebrated by some liberals today for his "libertarian" criticisms of the Cheney-Bush administration. His new persona has yet to excite much enthusiasm from me.
Silver quotes from a speech Barnett gave to the White Citizens Council, apparently also in 1964, after his term as Governor was over. When he refers to "enemies", he means among other advocates of racial integration and other supporters of the American form of government and the rule of law:
The secret purpose of our enemies is to diffuse our blood, confuse our minds and degrade our character as a people, that we may not be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. ... It is their purpose to liquidate us socially, religiously, politically, economically, or, as was done by the revolutionists in Russia and Red China, we are to be slaughtered.Sounds like a normal day on the Michael Savage show, huh?
Back then, this kind of talk was self-evident Southern bigotry and hickness. And this kind of talk came mostly from Democratic politicians. Today, this kind of thing is mainstream communication in the Republican Party. How the times have changed!
I saw Barnett live once, speaking to a classroom of college students around 10 years after these quotations. The ensuing decade did not seem to have brought even a glimmer of enlightenment to the man.
I'll close with a more literary quote than Ross Barnett could have produced. This one from Herman Melville's "Shiloh: A Requiem", about the battle commemorated in the stamp pictured here today. It was part of Melville's Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866). Referring to the church around which the battle of Shiloh ranged, Melville reminds us that no matter how glorious the cause, the goal of war is to produce dead bodies. A goal it always achieves, and often in great abundance:
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
And natural prayer
Of dying foemen mingled there -
Foemen at morn, but freinds at eve -
Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
But now they lie low,
Whyile over them the swallow skim,
And all is hushed at Shiloh.
Tags: civil war, james sliver, mississippi, ross barnett, shiloh, us civil war