Barbour’s record on black voters, office-seekers not subject to revision

Almost three years ago, in remarks to The Weekly Standard and The Clarion-Ledger editorial board, former Gov. Haley Barbour left many of us doubting his knowledge of our state’s bloody history and his commitment to overcoming the effects of that history.

Notably, he described the White Citizens Council, a domestic terrorist group, as a peacekeeping presence in Southern towns.

After reading the former Mississippi governor’s comments about election changes in our state and his bragging about the number of black elected officials we have and his complaints that Mississippi “doesn’t doesn’t get much credit for that, but it has a lot to be proud of,” I now understand why he is one of the highest-paid spin-meisters in the country.

As someone who has spent 65 years in Mississippi — 45 as an elected official — I am astounded by Barbour’s revisionist history.

Barbour cited the large number of black elected officials in Mississippi, touting the oft-quoted figure that we have more than any other state. He fails to point out that we have those officials because of the Voting Rights Act, legislation that whites throughout Mississippi, both Republican and Democrat, fought with historic viciousness. Even after the act was approved in 1965, white politicians in our state have used redistricting to deny blacks the opportunity to hold office. Now, even today, members of Barbour’s own party in Mississippi applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the act, support voter ID laws that will disenfranchise black voters and oppose any effort, such as early voting and same-day registration, that would make it easier for all voters to exercise their right.

I have never known Barbour to be a part of any effort to empower citizens who have been disenfranchised — neither in the courts nor at the ballot box.

In addition, not one of the black elected officials he raves about is a Republican, nor did he endorse any of them for municipal, county, state or federal office. I do, however, recall the then-governor’s support for Judge Charles Pickering’s nomination to the Fifth Circuit — a move opposed by every major civil rights organization and ultimately rejected by the U.S. Senate.

Bennie Thompson
Clarion Ledger
8/28/13