It was ‘that bad’

IT WAS ‘THAT BAD’…. The controversy surrounding Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s (R) affinity for white supremacists in the 1950s and 1960s appears to have largely died down, though it’s the kind of flap that’s likely to leave a scar. What’s more, there are also some additional revelations worth considering.

Initially, Barbour told the Weekly Standard that, looking back at the civil rights era in Mississippi when he was growing up, “I just don’t remember it as being that bad.” He went on to note that the local Citizens Council was responsible for keeping his community of Yazoo City free of violence. (Citizens Councils were known for touting “racial integrity” and fighting for segregation through economic coercion.)

Steve Mangold, who grew up with Barbour in Yazoo City in the 1950s and 1960s, spoke to Salon this week to help set the record straight. Barbour may not remember the era as “being that bad,” but that’s only because he wasn’t paying attention.

In the Weekly Standard profile, Barbour marvelled at the fact that Yazoo City’s schools were desegregated without violence, unlike in many other towns in Mississippi. But for Mangold, whose parents were both physicians in Yazoo City, another local institution is in the forefront of his memory of that era: the hospital.

Built in the mid 1950s with federal assistance, the Yazoo City hospital was, at the insistence of the local White Citizens Council, a whites-only facility, Mangold says. As a child, he had the nighttime assignment of answering the back door at his parents’ home, where they had their medical practice (whites came to the front door, blacks to the back). He would often see black residents with grievous injuries requiring emergency care — but they had nowhere to go.

“There was no hospital in town where blacks could go. They would have to go to Jackson 40 or 50 miles away and many died on the way,” he says, adding that this state of affairs lasted for years.

Further, his parents became pariahs in town and their business was damaged because they had resisted the White Citizens Council petition that the hospital be whites-only.

“Threatening phone calls, dead cats on the lawn and other acts of intimidation combined to run my father out of town for two years,” Mangold wrote in his letter to the Clarion-Ledger.

Mangold added that Barbour “grew up and everything was hunky-dory because he wasn’t involved with any of this.”

And that seems to be one of the persistent themes when it comes to Barbour. There are examples of him being flagrantly racist, but there are even more examples of him being strikingly oblivious.

After all, Barbour has said he “never thought twice” about racial integration. But therein lies the point — he never thought about it because he attended all-white, segregated schools, and never troubled himself to consider the plight of black families in his area.