Old Haley is at again. Seriously the boy just can’t keep his facts or his story straight. Late last year the old Nit Diddler told the Weekly Standard that he went to see MLK speak:
In interviews Barbour doesn’t have much to say about growing up in the midst of the civil rights revolution. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” he said. “I remember Martin Luther King came to town, in ’62. He spoke out at the old fairground and it was full of people, black and white.”
Did you go? I asked.
“Sure, I was there with some of my friends.”
This is an invented memory (also known as a lie) or–at best–a very poorly recalled event. Turns out that Martin Luther King did not speak in Yazoo City back in 1962:
According to Garrow, as well as interviews with a local NAACP activist who met with King and the owner of the local paper at the time, King’s only recorded appearance in Yazoo City was in 1966 and included no rallies.
That news was breaking this morning. Before Noon, Haley’s spokesmen and media defenders had come to his aid with a new story. Ben Smith over at Pravda on the Potomac took the lead (caution Politico link) and in doing so Smith failed as a reporter. Smith recalled that there was a June 21, 1966 report in the New York Times that mentioned Dr. King speaking at a rally in Yazoo City and used this memory to exonerate Haley Barbour by claiming:
Haley got King date, not event, wrong
Barbour initially said he was in high school at the time; in the new chronology, he would have been home from college — not, as an aide re-asserted to the Clarion-Ledger, in high school. The other details of his recollection — King speaking from the bed of a truck at the fairgrounds — match the Times account.
One possible source of what would then be a relatively minor confusion of dates: King appeared at Yazoo in 1966, the year of Meredith March, led by James Meredith, who had been the first black student at the University of Mississippi — in 1962.
I’ve read all the New York Times reporting and this is a generous recreation of events that Smith presents as being a fact. It is also the latest iteration of Haley Barbour’s ever shifting memory of the Sixties. But this is the new excuse and so his spokesmen have been all over the place today repeating it. Barbour’s mouthpiece told the local paper today that:
“The governor said he may have the year wrong, but he knows he saw Dr. King in Yazoo City, and it was while the governor was in high school.”
Ben Smith took these talking points and ran with them, but a little bit of reporting or research should have led him to ask more questions. Turns out that this latest recovered memory is pretty easy to knock down…
To hear the Old Nit Diddler recall the story, it was as if Dr. King flew into Yazoo, gave a speech at the Fair Grounds–a talk that was respectfully heard by both whites and blacks–and then he was back on book tour or something. In Haley’s fuzzy brain, the year when this happy event occurred doesn’t matter. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
In the summer of 1966 Mississippi was ground zero of the Civil Rights struggle and the focus of world wide media attention. By that time Haley Barbour was a student at Ole Miss. As June 1966 began, a well known former Ole Miss student decided to take a walk. His name was James Meredith and a few years earlier he became the first African American to attend Haley’s school. Somehow, I think Haley Barbour and his fellow students at the University of Mississippi would have known the name “James Meredith”. And Haley might have remembered that name and the connection to his school when James Meredith was shot by a white racist as he began his walk from Memphis, TN to Jackson, MS.
Meredith began his walk to prove that black people could register to vote in Mississippi and should not be afraid of white violence anymore. He had called his quite walk his March Against Fear. He was shot on June 6, 1966. The act of white supremacist terrorism made completing his march a Civil Rights campaign priority. Within days Martin Luther King, other leaders and activists came to Mississippi to complete Meredith’s March Against Fear.
By June 21, 1966 Dr. King had been marching in the State for days and there were many public rallies. The marchers were greeted by young white men waving the Confederate Flags and hurling insults from the sidelines of the roads where they marched or in the places where they tried to speak. Haley could have his memory of seeing Dr. King that summer as one of these young men stalking the marchers (or he could be one of those rare young white Southerners in 1966 who supported Civil Rights, but if that was the case why can’t he remember taking that stand).
Before Dr. King got to Yazoo City late that evening he had already attended a march and rally in Philadelphia, MS and another rally in Indianola, MS. The event in Philadelphia was to commemorate the three civil rights worker murdered in the town two years earlier. In his biography of Dr. King, Bearing the Cross, David J. Garrow wrote about how the event was greeted by white violence::
“Hostile white onlookers taunted the demonstrators, and two cars sped past the column, missing the protesters by [just] inches. No state highway patrolmen were on the scene, and a truck made a pass at the marchers as a man with a club repeatedly tried to strike the protesters from the passenger-side window. King … led a prayer service when the head of the column reached the county jail, and then the marchers moved [on] one block [farther] to the Neshoba County courthouse. When King tried to lead the group on to [its] lawn, Chief Deputy Sheriff Cecil Ray Price stepped forward to block his path. ‘You’re the one who had Schwerner and those fellows in jail?’ King asked quietly. ‘Yes, sir,’ Price responded in a tone of sarcastic pride. With the courthouse lawn blocked, and an angry white mob of three hundred growing more aggressive by the minute, King led the marchers in a short memorial service out in the street.
“Heckling from the whites almost drowned out King’s words, and newsmen looked on nervously as he spoke prayerfully about the three young men’s sacrifice. ‘King appeared to be shaken’ as the whites’ shouts grew more vociferous, and his voice quavered when he declared that ‘I believe in my heart that the murderers are somewhere around me at this moment’ while Cecil Price smirked only a few steps behind him. ‘You’re damn right, they’re behind you right now,’ Price muttered.”
The Department of Transportation has a history of the “March Against Fear” on their web site as part of their effort to document the history of America’s highways. It added more details about the events of that Mississippi summer and the rally in Philadelphia:
At the commemoration, Dr. King addressed participants amid jeers from white bystanders. He said, “I want them to know that we are not afraid. If they kill three of us, they will have to kill all of us. I am not afraid of any man, whether he is in Michigan or Mississippi, whether he is in Birmingham or Boston.” As the group began the return march, the white bystanders attacked with stones, bottles, clubs, fists, and shouts. The police held them back until some of the marchers began to fight back. That night, white marauders drove through African-American neighborhoods spraying homes with gunfire.
The “until some of the marchers began to fight back” line is another reason why Haley might have remembered Dr. King’s speech in Yazoo City if he had been there. Since Meredith had been wounded by a shotgun blast, the marchers had been harassed by threats and violence almost every step of the way. Dr. King’s appeals to non-violence were wearing thin. Just days before the June 21 events in Philadelphia, Indianola, and Yazoo City the Civil Rights movement started to embrace a new rallying cry when Stokely Carmichael (then the head of SNCC), gave his Black Power speech in Greenwood, MS on June 16, 1966:
In Greenwood, where Carmichael had lived and been jailed in 1964, the marchers planned to camp on the grounds of Stone Street Negro School, but police questioned their authority. After arguing with the police, Carmichael was arrested [quotes from Taylor Branch’s At Canaan’s Edge]:
In Greenwood, where the morning Commonwealth warned against King as a hate-monger “who can be compared to Josef Stalin and Mao Tze Tung,” local officials thought better of dispersing his hordes. They reversed themselves to allow the school campsite, which added jolts of vindication to the mass meeting that night. [SNCC official] Willie Ricks guided Carmichael to the speaker’s platform when he made bail, saying most of the locals remembered him fondly. “Drop it now!” [Ricks] urged. “The people are ready.”
He was referring to a line of argument Carmichael had been using in private meetings with SNCC leaders:
Carmichael faced an agitated crowd of six hundred. “This is the 27th time I have been arrested,” he began, “and I ain’t going to jail no more!” He said Negroes should stay home from Vietnam and fight for black power in Greenwood. “We want black power!” he shouted five times, jabbing his forefinger downward in the air. “That’s right. That’s what we want, black power. We don’t have to be ashamed of it. We have stayed here. We have begged the president. We’ve begged the federal government-that’s all we’ve been doing, begging and begging. It’s time we stand up and take over. Every courthouse in Mississippi ought to be burned down tomorrow to get rid of the dirt and the mess. From now on, when they ask you what you want, you know what to tell ’em. What do you want?”
The crowd shouted, “Black Power!” Willie Ricks sprang up to help lead thunderous rounds of call and response: “What do you want?” “Black Power!” [Canaan, 486]
Every night the marchers on the March Against Fear had to find a place to sleep–a place to camp for the evening. And every night these marchers held a meeting and rally to organize their next steps and to keep their spirits up. On the night of June 21, 1966 the marchers were camping at the Fair Grounds of Yazoo City and it was there where they held their rally and meeting.
June 21, 1966 had been a very long day. A side march and rally in Philadelphia, MS had been greeted by violence–violence that was still going on as the marchers gathered that evening in Yazoo City. Dr. King had left the Philadelphia event and went to a voter’s registration rally in Indianola, MS. He would not get to Yazoo City until late that night and well after the meeting had begun. By the time Dr. King arrived the marchers were reacting to the white violence of the day with cries of “Black Power”:
Returning to the March Against Fear, now on U.S. 49, at Yazoo City, Dr. King found that the incident in Philadelphia had revived debate over strategy. Many thought that if they were going to die for the cause, they should go down fighting. Dr. King explained the futility of violence in a society where African-Americans were only about 10 percent of the population. He added:
I am not going to allow anybody to pull me so low as to use the very methods that perpetuated evil throughout our civilization. I’m sick and tired of violence . . . . I’m tired of evil. I’m not going to use violence no matter who says it!
He threatened to leave the March Against Fear if inflammatory rhetoric continued. [Canaan, p. 489]
The next day, in a small item without a byline, the New York Times reported on Dr. King’s comments:
YAZOO CITY, Miss., June 21 – Tonight at a rally in Yazoo City, Dr. King lashed out at the student committee’s policy of advocating “black power” and at the Deacons for Defense and Justice, which urges Negroes to arm themselves in self-defense.
“Some people are telling us to be like our ‘oppressor, who has a history of using Molotov cocktails, who has a history of dropping the atom bomb, who has a history of lynching Negroes,” he said. “Now people
are telling me to stoop down to that level.
“I’m sick and tired of violence. I’m tired of the war in Vietnam. I’m tired of Molotov cocktails.”
The meeting in Yazoo City was a fight for the soul of the Civil Rights movement and the choice between a non-violent struggle or the embrace of self-defense–even if that meant meeting violence with violence. Before Dr. King spoke there were many voices advocating for “Black Power” and resistance.
Today’s Clarion Ledger recalls another the New York Times report on the Yazoo City event:
The Sept. 25, 1966, issue of The New York Times Magazine, gave more details, describing an appearance by King at the fairgrounds at night in Yazoo City, where he spoke on a flatbed truck.
It was during the Meredith March that Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader Stokely Carmichael tried out the phrase, “black power,” getting the black crowds to chant it with him.
That night in Yazoo City, Willie Ricks stood on the flatbed truck and spoke to almost 1,000 African Americans, talking of “white blood flowing” and yelling “black power.”
As King came up to speak, the crowd surged around him, trying to touch him. When he reached the truck, he got up and spoke.
He told those present that he was tired of talk of black power and tired of talk of violence. He reassured them the only way to overcome violent enemies was to embrace nonviolent love.
“I’m tired of shooting. I’m tired of hatred,” King told them. “I’m tired of evil. I’m not going to use violence no matter who says it!”
You will note that the NYTs reports that the event took place at night and that the crowd of 1,000 was African American. There was no mention of white spectators hanging out on the edge of the event on their pick-up trucks to listen or to intimidate. And somehow, if Haley had been there to hear the speakers before King calling for “white blood flowing” and yelling “black power” you might imagine the scene leaving an impression on the young lad, as might King’s words rejecting violence.
And yet Ben Smith and Haley Barbour would have you believe that an 18 year old Haley Barbour would have stayed late into the evening at a rally of marchers and organizers of the March Against Fear at a place and time where there were more blacks than whites and when some of those folks were calling for meeting white violence with violence. Perhaps Haley Barbour was one of the handful of white folks at the Fair Ground in Yazoo City that night, but if he was–why can’t he remember it?
But what Haley told the Weekly Standard was:
“I don’t really remember. The truth is, we couldn’t hear very well. We were sort of out there on the periphery. We just sat on our cars, watching the girls, talking, doing what boys do. We paid more attention to the girls than to King.”
So not only were these all these young white guys on the edge of the late evening speech by King, there were all these women to watch as well. Somehow it just all sounds like bullshit.
Now there were lots of day time gatherings of young white men watching the March Against Fear in June 1966 all over Mississippi. And no doubt these gatherings of white resistance attracted massive crowds. When King and the marchers returned to Philadelphia, MS on Friday June 24, 1966 the New York Time reported that:
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 300 civil rights marchers returned to downtown Philadelphia today and braved a speeding car, three bottles, two eggs and hundreds of shouts of “nigger.”
The taunts and the missiles came from among 1,500 to 2,000 whites who stared over the shoulders of more than 100 heavily armed state highway patrolmen and local law enforcement officers.
Perhaps the second march to Philadelphia is the event that Haley Barbour recalls as a great chance to “watch girls”. And perhaps the image below of Barbour’s fellow young white Mississippians during June of 1966 gives one an idea of just what “sitting on your cars” and “watching girls” looked like:
I wonder why Haley’s memory is so bad when it comes to the Civil Rights era?