Barbour's Ole Miss-takes

Barbour's Ole Miss-takes

by digby

I think the boldest rewriting of history I've heard recently (and gawd knows I've been hearing a lot of it) is Haley Barbour's contention that it was the Republicans working for Nixon in the south who led the way on civil rights. A generous reading of that fantasy would say that means the people who enacted the Southern Strategy feel culpable for their opportunistic race based politics and are trying to assuage their guilt. (A less generous reading would say they are just liars.)

But this story provides a fascinating glimpse into the reality that the deluded guilt ridden or fantastic liar Barbour is unable or unwilling to admit. Barbour claimed to recall a black student at Ole Miss in the late 60s who was so successfully integrated that nobody even gave it a second thought. They were so friendly, she shared her notes with him:

"When I became a Republican in the late '60s, in my state and probably some other Southern states the hard right were all Democrats," he said. "They didn't want to have Republicans because, in their words, 'It split the white vote.' And young people were more likely to be Republicans than our grandparents."

That's when he brought up Bailey.

He said she was "a very nice girl" who "happened to be an African-American, and, God bless her, she let me copy her notes the whole time. And since I was not prone to go to class every day, I considered it a great — it was a great thing, it was just — there was nothing to it. If she remembers it, I would be surprised. She was just another student. I was the student next to her."

Bailey, reached by phone, reacted to Barbour's story with surprise that bordered on confusion.

"I don't remember him at all, no, because during that time that certainly wasn't a pleasant experience for me," she said. "My interactions with white people were very, very limited. Very, very few reached out at all."

Bailey is now the principal of an elementary school in Beaverton, Ore. While she may have seemed like just another student to Barbour, history hasn't viewed her that way. For her role in the civil rights movement, she was inducted into the Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame and has a scholarship named after her.

She's sometimes asked to speak to groups about her experience. Her recollections are filled with details of pain, humiliation, isolation and courage.

She left Mississippi at 24, following her brother to the more liberal Pacific Northwest. It seemed beautiful and welcoming. She worked in Seattle, and eventually was recruited to Oregon. She got a master's degree, began a doctoral program.

She'd go back to Mississippi to visit her parents. Her father was a prominent local civil rights leader who didn't share Barbour's view of Republicans as enlightened on the issue. Both her parents are deceased.

Barbour left Ole Miss before he finished his bachelor's degree to work for the Nixon campaign, then came back to earn his law degree. Bailey said she finished her undergraduate degree in three years, not because she was a great student, but because she wanted to get out of Oxford, Miss., as fast as she could.

She recalled dancing in Oxford Square once with another black student at a school celebration when a crowd of whites began pelting them with coins and beer. "It was just an awful experience. I just saw this mass of anger; anger and hostility. I thought my life was going to end."

A campus minister, one of the only whites she remembers showing her kindness, took her by the hand and led her to safety. She said the minister was ostracized.

During her undergraduate days, she was inundated with intimidating phone calls to her dorm from white men. "The calls were so constant," she said. "Vulgar, all sexual connotations, saying nigger bitches needed to go back to the cotton field and things of that nature." She'd complain, have the phone number changed. Then the calls would start again. Funeral wreaths with what appeared to be animal blood on them were found outside her dorm.

That's the enlightened world Barbour the Nixon acolyte inhabited, in which he sat next to "just another student .. who happened to be African American." Again, I don't know if he's just delusional or lying but the fact that he's dishonestly arguing that the Southern Strategy wasn't consciously designed to exploit the racial turmoil of the time argues strongly for the latter. The Republicans recruited young Southern racists to carry out their plan. If Barbour wasn't one of them, he was a rare bird. His "memories" notwithstanding, this is all well documented and Barbour has been in politics his entire adult life, so this isn't the first he's heard of it.

I'm sure there are people who are going to argue that Barbour's memories are as valid as Bailey's and therefore this is just another matter of he said/ she said. But the travails of the students who integrated Ole Miss are also well documented and anyone who argues that a black student during that era was "just another student who happened to be black" is flat-out wrong.

As I wrote before, I suppose it's a good thing that these people have enough shame about their past that they are trying to airbrush it now. But considering that he's also dogwhistling the birther nonsense, it would appear that old Haley's just moved on to the newer, shinier form of right wing racism. I guess we can hope that he'll airbrush all that too at some point. Baby steps.