Memories: The land of cotton | Arkansas Blog

Memories: The land of cotton

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The New York Times writes further today about Haley Barbour's fond memories of the White Citizens Council, an organization well-remembered in Arkansas for Jim Johnson's membership and use of the specter of sexual race mixing as a potent political tool.

It interests me because Barbour is three years older than I am. It's true, as he has been quoted, that times weren't "that bad" for me, either. But I was white. Those "reserve the right to refuse service to anyone" signs still hanging in restaurants in my southern hometown then didn't apply to me. The invitation-only high school Christmas dance included my name on the guest list because I was white. None was sent to a black student.

Barbour has been quoted as saying the South was largely integrated by the time his generation came of age. Really?

Maybe Yazoo City in enlightened Mississippi was farther advanced. (Noted: Ole Miss' first black football player arrived in 1972, three years after Barbour would have graduated had he not dropped out; the Rebel flag and "Dixie" would persist for decades.) A handful of brave black kids received high school diplomas with my Louisiana class in 1968, but we were the only high school in the parish so progressive, thanks to a liberal city school superintendent. Lunchroom seating would have been segregated but for the faculty sponsors of the girls marching group — one of them a Junction City native and Henderson grad who taught Latin — who insisted that the leaders of the group sit with the new arrivals and make them feel welcome on their first day at the white school.

We even added a single black teacher — a librarian — though in the racially vague environs of southern Louisiana, you had to know his people to know he was black, so "white" did he appear. The high school would, of course, soon have a rapidly growing black enrollment as white folks moved to private schools and the new high school south of town.

That Haley Barbour sugarcoats those days tells you a little about him and a lot about what he perceives of attitudes in Mississippi and the country. It suggests: "What's all the bitching about? Segregation is over. We're all post-racial now. The 60s? It wasn't all THAT bad. Get over it." The Schwerners, Chaneys, Goodmans, Everses and Kings and many more might have different memories.

UPDATE: Barbour, the wannabe president, has now decided the Citizens Councils were "indefensible."

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