Symbolism vs. policy: Do Barbour’s civil rights words match actions?

For as long as white Mississippi politicians have embraced the moral cause of the civil rights movement and the heroism of the civil rights activists, the question has been: When will those white Mississippi politicians convert their political symbolism into public policy reality? The recent actions of our own governor, Haley Barbour, further prove that this question remains unanswered.

We see this use of political symbolism in the recent remarks made by the governor to The Weekly Standard and The Clarion-Ledger editorial board. In brief, Gov. Barbour was asked why his hometown in Mississippi did not suffer the same racial violence as other places when he was a young man, his reply was: “Because the business community wouldn’t stand for it. You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders.”

That response left many of us doubting his knowledge of our state’s bloody history and his commitment to overcoming the effects of that history. Gov. Barbour later offered up two symbolic gestures – building a civil rights museum and welcoming the 50th anniversary celebration of the Freedom Riders.

U.S. REP. BENNIE G. THOMPSON
1/30/11