Article Comment 

Our view: Barbour should confront state's past head-on

 

 

Will there ever be a president from Mississippi?  

 

Maybe someday, but it would take a Herculean effort, which Gov. Haley Barbour is discovering. 

 

Unfortunately for Barbour, our reputation precedes us. We''re the place where Medgar Evers was shot and Emmitt Till was lynched, where three civil rights workers were buried in a Neshoba County levee, where students and townspeople rioted in Oxford to keep Ole Miss lily white.  

 

We''re a state that has made much progress since then. But we''re not given any slack. Sometimes we''re unfairly weighted down with the burdens of the past. Other times we vote by referendum to keep them, as we did in 2001, when we voted to keep the Confederate war emblem on our state flag by a 2-1 margin.  

 

Most recently, we''ve made headlines as the state considering the Nathan Bedford Forrest license plate. 

 

Barbour has confronted past and present racial strife, in Mississippi and elsewhere, by not confronting it -- or when pressed, taking the stance that there''s really nothing to see here.  

 

A flap over the insensitive Virginia Confederate History Month proclamation last year, which extolled Confederate soldiers'' sacrifices but ignored slavery''s role in the conflict, "amount to diddly," Barbour said. Meanwhile, Virginia''s own Republican governor was feverishly apologizing, working to revise the ordinance and admitting that yes, Virginia''s role in going to war to preserve slavery did, in fact, amount to diddly. 

 

Of course, Barbour has signed state bills designating April Confederate Heritage Month, the same month he plans to officially say whether he''s running for president. 

 

Meanwhile, "if you want a lesson on Nathan Bedford Forrest, buy a book," he told the Associated Press. He refused to denounce Forrest, an early Ku Klux Klan leader, explaining he''s not in the business of denouncing people, no matter who they might be. ("Not even the press," he said cheekily, putting the media on a rung beneath the Klan.) He later said he''d veto the license plate bill if it made it to his desk. 

 

Barbour has a history of appearing tone-deaf on the state''s racial issues, clearly a calculated move to appease his base. In 2003, Barbour made a point to run for governor with a Mississippi flag pin and its Confederate symbol on his lapel. "That accessory has largely disappeared in recent months," The Associated Press pointed out. The AP also has noted that he has been an "unabashed supporter" of the flag, even putting Earl Faggert, an organizer of a group to keep the Confederate symbol on his flag, on his 2007 re-election payroll. Barbour explained that Faggert might help get out the black vote. 

 

In a gaffe in December, he praised the white Citizens Councils, which he said helped keep the Klan at bay, but actually were a powerful instrument to intimidate black voters and integration supporters, thus prolonging segregation. Barbour later backpedaled on the comments. In the same month in the Weekly Standard magazine, " Barbour said he didn''t recall Mississippi''s civil rights era as ''being that bad,''" AP reported. 

 

In another interview with the AP, Barbour said, "When I grew up, the South was segregated. And once I got grown and to the point of having some judgment, it was obvious to me segregation is indefensible. And doesn''t exist here and hasn''t really existed here in my adult life." 

 

It doesn''t exist here. If it ever did, it wasn''t that bad. These things are a non-issue. Nit-picking. Diddly. 

 

To be fair, Barbour isn''t completely ignoring the legacy of the civil rights workers struggle in the state, and the racial violence that accompanied it. He denounced such violence in a speech on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He plans to host a reunion of the Freedom Riders, who helped integrate buses, in the governor''s mansion. He urged the Legislature to resume work to construct a civil rights museum in a state that doesn''t have one. 

 

Barbour''s a shrewd political tactitian -- maybe the best in the country. But can the drawling Mississippi conservative be president? 

 

To have a shot, the "anti-Obama" needs to refine his stance on race. He needs to come out clearly and forcefully against perpetuating divisive symbols of the past, whether they be emblazoned on flags, lapel pins or license plates. 

 

That doesn''t play well among white voters in Mississippi or the South, Barbour''s base. But our governor is elevating himself, and Mississippi, to a national stage. 

 

We see our state''s continued racial divisiveness as a moral issue, not a political one. Barbour owes it to all of us to confront our past head-on, honestly and forcefully -- not side-step it, downplay it or ignore it.

 

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment lateral caudal nidopallium commented at 2/24/2011 12:00:00 PM:

I can't believe the Dispatch printed this; "Unfortunately for Barbour, our reputation precedes us. We're the place where Medgar Evers was shot and Emmitt Till was lynched, where three civil rights workers were buried in a Neshoba County levee, where students and townspeople rioted in Oxford to keep Ole Miss lily white."
If what I've read on local web sites is true, the Commercial Dispatch has its own legacy to deal with regarding that riot in Oxford. If what I read is true, it would be hypocritical of the Commercial Dispatch to insist someone else clean their closet while not cleaning its own. Perhaps the headline should have read, "Commercial Dispatch should confront newspaper's past head-on." How about it?

 

Article Comment frank commented at 2/24/2011 1:04:00 PM:

The sooner we all quit looking backwards and look ahead the better. What is done is done. We can't change the past but we can change the future. I think this newspaper keeps dredging up these racially charged editorials because they like the comments generated and I am certainly guilty of posting my share. Are they selling copy? At what cost?

LCN above makes a great point. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. The Dispatch as an organization won't be casting it nor will most of the rest of us. My message is: QUIT throwing those rocks. The history is written, now write the future. Let it rest Birney.

 

Article Comment deputydawg commented at 2/24/2011 1:36:00 PM:

I too agree that the Dispatch should be help accountable. They would put down the citizens of the state of Mississippi for voting, by a 2-1 margin, to preserve their state flag. One would have to assume therefore, that they would support an effort to overturn the results of the vote and give us a flag that it's citizens do not want or support. That would not reflect the type of democracy that my forefathers fought and died for.
Now, the Dispatch says that Governor Barbour needs to refine his stance on race issues if he is to have a chance at the presidency. My question is, what was the stance of the Commercial Dispatch in reporting President elect Obama's self professed mentor, Rev. Wright, as he was preaching hatred toward white people and "G.D. America"? Obama's mentor would make N.B.Forrest look like a saint.
The left-wing, bleeding heart, politically correct media is starting to wear thin on the majority of Americans. Just report the truth and let us form our own opinions.

 

Article Comment kat commented at 2/24/2011 7:39:00 PM:

Birney- we all know how YOU feel. You take every opportunity to feed us your liberal views at every turn. Yes, Mississippi ( as well as much of the South) does need to confront some old issues "head on". Problem being, you can lead a horse to water.....well you know the rest. What you can't do.....as long as people have a choice, is tell them WHAT they must support/believe. Just report the issues-WITHOUT your slanted view. Most of us know Barbour will never be President.

 

Article Comment ckirby commented at 2/24/2011 9:50:00 PM:

I think what lcn is referring to is an internet archive of a published literary work that quotes substantial parts of an editorial that was alleged to have been published in the Commercial Dispatch by Birney Imes Jr., the former editor/publisher of the Dispatch and patriarch of one of the wealthiest families in the city of Columbus.
According to the work by a noted African-American historian, Birney Imes, Jr published an editorial imploring local Mississippians to caravan to the city of Oxford to support efforts to prevent the desegregation of Ole Miss. According to the book, car and truck loads of locals traveled to Oxford and a riot ensued, doing several million dollars worth of damage.
I agree that everyone knows Birney Imess III's views and political philosophy. Unfortunately, as he and the newspaper see no problem with an ongoing effort to remind the average person on the street of their state's horrific past, often using such to secure backing and support for projects of dubious general welfare value, neither he nor the newspaper see fit to include the newspaper's own past, a past that contributed much more to the events of the time than the average person on the street at the time.
Why is that? Why the years and years of going on about what some people did in the past? Not a majority, as many Mississippians were anti-segregationists and risked much to support equality, something few to none have received credit for in the pages of the Dispatch in the headlong rush by the current Mr. Imes to perpetuate events and memories of the past. Why is that? Why have these true champions of the past not received any significant acknowledgement in the pages of the Dispatch? People who risked their jobs, their places in the community, their homes and their lives at a time when considering other races as equals could mean being fired, beaten, harassed by law enforcement, having one's reputation destroyed, seeing one's family threatened. Where have the stories about these heroes been?
Birney, if you or the newspaper are going to hold to this course, it's only fair that you and the Dispatch cover the role this newspaper played in the way the state's past played out. Every time the Dispatch prints a story involving race and the state's past, credibility is in question. The part the newspaper played is the 900 lb elephant in the room with every article. It's time the newspaper turned its magnifying glass on itself, if it is to be taken seriously on race, racism and what the newspaper has termed our collective past. You've not been shy about covering the past of others in these stories, why not the newspaper's own?

 

Article Comment hope commented at 2/24/2011 10:49:00 PM:

@kat:Just report the issues without your slanted views. Let me call your attention to FAUX news. If you don't like Birney's views, you will want to shut FAUX down. FAUX has gotten so bad, that Beck had to apologize, now that is bad.

 

Article Comment melody commented at 2/24/2011 11:56:00 PM:

there you go again hope. making goofy statements with no specifics. it would make much better sense if you posted some facts to clarify you statements which make no sense at all. We all know you don't watch the beck man so it's a waste of time to make up stuff to impress us with info about Glenn. Do you ever say anything constructive about people? Not even the libs that you claim to support, right? you're sorta like c.columbus--when he left spain he didn't know where he was going, when he landed here he didh't know where he was and when he got back to spain he didn't know where he had been.

 

Article Comment birney commented at 2/25/2011 10:45:00 AM:

Birney Imes replies: As the writers assert, The Commercial Dispatch was on the wrong side of the Civil Rights cause, as were many small-town Mississippi newspapers. There were exceptions -- Lexington and Greenville, to name two -- and for their stands those courageous editors lived under threat of violence. That was almost 50 years ago.
The writers here seem to suggest a newspaper doesn't have the right to change its position or a son to differ from his father.
The stand we have taken is on a current issue, one in which the events of those earlier times are relevant. There is a move in our state to put one of the early leaders of the Klan on a car tag.
We believe we have not only the right but the responsibility to comment on that action because it is wrong. And we believe the Governor knows that and should say as much.
We also believe our readers have the right to express their opinions in the newspaper, and we allow them to do so, even under the cover of anonymity.

 

Article Comment kj commented at 2/25/2011 12:16:00 PM:

For all the talk about going forward, it remains mostly just talk. Because as soon as someone wants to move forward and adopt a less racially charged flag, or school mascot, or anything else the talk quickly changes into a vote to keep whatever reminder of the past around for a while longer.

When people still experience racial discrimination everyday, or even on a regular basis, those old symbols have a negative impact. They tell the people engaging in discrimination that it's really ok. I mean, we can't say that openly much these days, but we can keep a symbol around so we don't have to say it openly. When Barbour makes these missteps, he's giving a certain percentage of the population implicit encouragement to continue on. It may be a small percentage that engages in violence, but there's a larger percentage that, while decrying violence, still treats people differently based on the color of their skin.

 

Article Comment birney commented at 2/25/2011 12:20:00 PM:

Birney Imes responds to individual posters:
To ckirby: I think your claim that "many Mississippians were anti-segregationists and risked much to support equality" is simply wrong. It was more like a courageous few. Like it or not our unfortunate past is relevant to this issue; those events play into the perceptions the rest of the world has of Mississippi. Putting someone like Forrest on a car tag only reinforces those perceptions. The Dispatch has given extensive coverage to the visits of Civil Rights pioneers to the area. Examples that come to mind are the speakers Dream 365 has brought to town during their Martin Luther King Jr. observance. If there are civil rights pioneers living in the area we've not reported on, please let us know who they are.

To deputydawg: As far was we know no one is proposing putting President Obama's preacher, or former preacher, Rev. Wright, on a Mississippi license tag. If they are, we're against that, too.

To kat: It is a newspaper's responsibility to offer opinions, and we do that daily on our editorial pages, ours, yours and others. We think it is so important to have a variety of opinions that we even allow readers such as yourself to take us to task while wrapped in the cloak of anonymity. Our detractors love to brandish the "liberal" label, a form of name calling, I suppose. In today's paper we admonish parents to be involved in their children's studies. Tell me, is that liberal? Is it an opinion that shouldn't be expressed?

 

Article Comment frank commented at 2/25/2011 12:52:00 PM:

@birney:
"The writers here seem to suggest a newspaper doesn't have the right to change its position or a son to differ from his father."

Does a Governor from Yazoo City have the same rights?

Let it rest Birney.

 

Article Comment raider commented at 2/25/2011 8:03:00 PM:

@kj: I agree with you 100%.

 

Article Comment ckirby commented at 2/25/2011 8:48:00 PM:

Still about the symbols? That's a campaign with no end, literally, but since that is consistently brought up in discussions on race and the past, I've never heard an answer to the question of why the Dispatch and its editor/publisher spend so much valuable print space concentrating on these old south symbols, but enthusiastically promote one of the most egregious examples of such symbolism in the form of the local pilgrimage tour?
Really, calling for efforts to remove sports mascots, paintings in public buildings and the state flag, but throw the full weight and influence of the newspaper behind a yearly show of the homes built by wealthy slave owners, complete with hoop skirts, antique vintage furniture and mint juleps? Where is the moral consistency? I don't see it.
I doubt if fans of Ole Miss would have fought any less harder to keep the school mascot had it been a Mississippi black bear, when faced with a DEMAND that they give the school's mascot up. And the flag, with apologies to the designers, the few available choices were horrible, which equated to no choice for most sane people. Mistakes of the past don't excuse making a poor choice in the present, especially when it comes to something such as the state's flag that might never be changed again.
So how about it, do we see the pilgrimage and other favored symbolism treated the same as Colonel Reb, the state flag and the song Dixie? Or are we going to continue to see a hit and miss, arbitrary campaign against symbols of the past?

 

Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 2/25/2011 8:55:00 PM:

Boss Hogg should just quietly go away. You don't want this wolf in sheep's clothing as a President.

 

Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 2/25/2011 9:00:00 PM:

Birney, the word "responsibility" doesn't even belong in your mouth. You want to talk about responsibility?? How about a newspapers responsibility to print the ENTIRE story without slanting it, without leaving off the little details that might not look so good for your buddies, and how about even bothering to get the story RIGHT?

Hell, you can't even get the paper to my house before the news comes on Channel 4 at 5PM for free.

Responsibility?? It's a wonder your head doesn't burst into flames when you say it.

 

Article Comment observer2 commented at 2/26/2011 8:46:00 AM:

I suppose everyone else is laughing with me at roscoe's comment about responsibility-not that he hit the nail on the head but more like "the pot calling the kettle black". If roscoe thinks he can always "get the story right" to please all the people all the time , let him start himself or herself a paper business of his own. He could have bought the packet. It would have been a good fit for him. If you like wcbi better, why not stop reading the dispatch and keep off the website? If you keep up the pace you're on now , your head will probably burst into flames. Is it worth it?
PS- I wonder if anyone else senses that you are one of those obama supporting crackers who has let the cat out of the bag by trying to put down our Governor? Would obama be your choice between the two? Come on now --man up and fess up!!

 

Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 2/26/2011 8:02:00 PM:

observer: I have a BS in Journalism, graduated cum laude, and when I wrote for the various papers I wrote for, the article was published without editing. Meaning I got it right the first time. It's not that hard to do.

Did I say I liked WCBI better?? Apparently you're lacking in comprehension skills. What I said was the paper doesn't get here until the WCBI News is already on at 5PM. Do try to pay attention!

As for my Obama supporting cracker tendencies: I do not, nor have I ever, supported anyone or anything from either of those sick and corrupt political parties. So much for your senses!!

You want to know what your Governor did?? When he came to office, he and his buddies went to work on "Tort Reform". Now you and the rest of your peckerwood buddies swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. What you really swallowed was the State of Mississippi making it much harder for you to sue, and win, against a Doctor or Hospital, even if they deserve it. And they also capped the amount you could win, should you be that lucky. Now Einstein, just who do you suppose they were doing that for??? And naturally, you mouth-breathers lined up behind it because "them good ole boys" told you to.

Man up?? You're the ones wearing the high heels bubba.

 

Article Comment frank commented at 2/27/2011 12:44:00 PM:

What college did you graduate from Rosco? Just curious.

 

Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 2/27/2011 8:15:00 PM:

It's not important, but did you notice someone "dislike" your question??? Now there is a curiosity.

 

Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 2/28/2011 7:34:00 AM:

The fact the Dispatch has removed the NBF tag discussion is the exact thing I am saying about this paper and the Imes family. This isn't being responsible Birney, it's called censorship, and you well know it.

After all, one must maintain the pancake makeup of Columbus being a perfect Peyton Place, right? Roses for everybody!!! Yippeee!!!!

Do you know where you can put your roses Birney?

 

Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 3/1/2011 7:55:00 PM:

Nice touch on the election story there Birney. Go to the back to finish the story and it just ends with the word "and".

I've never understood why you are wasting your editorial skills at a local paper level. Why, with your talent you could be working for the Times, or at least Mad Magazine.

Also noticed you are working on an all time personal best this week. Screwed up the CHS speaker story, cut off the tail end of an election story, and all before Wednesday. Wow!!!

 

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