Barbour: Build civil rights museum in Mississippi

Published 3:02 pm Thursday, January 13, 2011

Potential presidential candidate Gov. Haley Barbour — under fire recently for comments critics claim minimized the problems of Mississippi’s civil rights era — said in his final State of the State speech Tuesday night that the state should build a museum dedicated to the movement.

The Republican, who is considering a 2012 presidential run, also used his 38-minute speech to state lawmakers to criticize the policies of President Barack Obama.

Barbour said this is a good time to move forward with the museum in Jackson, a few blocks from the state Capitol, because 2011 is the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders’ journey that challenged racial segregation and the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“The civil rights struggle is an important part of our history, and millions of people are interested in learning more about it,” Barbour said. “People from around the world would flock to see the museum and learn about the movement.”

Barbour last month told the Weekly Standard magazine that the Citizens Council was “an organization of town leaders” that helped keep the Ku Klux Klan out of his hometown of Yazoo City when schools desegregated in 1970.

Historians say the Citizens Council helped enforce segregation in Mississippi through social pressure, including publishing the names of black people who wanted to send their children to the white public schools.

A Mississippi civil rights museum was first proposed in 2007 but stalled over discussions of location and funding. Barbour said four years ago that a museum should be built with private donations.

He did not offer a funding proposal Tuesday night, and said after the speech that details will need to be worked out. Several lawmakers said the state should either partially or fully fund the project.

Barbour is in the final year of his second term and can’t seek re-election this year. Most of the 174 lawmakers are expected to run again, and Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is among at least a half-dozen candidates vying for governor.

Barbour said during the 38-minute speech that he wants lawmakers to be cautious in setting a state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and he’d like to leave them about $200 million in financial reserves.

“I realize this is an election year, and every penny of appropriated money has a constituency,” Barbour said. “You will get pressure to spend more for this and more for that.”

Barbour did not mention the drilling rig that exploded last April in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people, spewing millions of gallons of oil into the water and endangering shorelines in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

However, he said the policies of Democratic President Barack Obama are increasing the cost of energy.

“We don’t need higher fuel prices in Mississippi,” Barbour said. “Four-dollar gas brought us to our knees in 2008.”

Barbour also said Obama’s health policies will hurt businesses.

Rep. Brian Aldridge, R-Tupelo, said Barbour talked about federal policies more Tuesday night than in the previous State of the State speeches.

“It very much sounded like someone running for president of the United States,” Aldridge said.

Lawmakers gave Barbour a standing ovation for his proposal on the museum. After the speech, several of them — Democrat and Republican, black and white — praised the plan.

Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, said he would not question the motivation for the museum proposal, coming weeks after the national controversy over Barbour’s remarks about the era.

“I’m just glad that he saw the light to go forward with it,” said Frazier, who served on a commission appointed in 2007 to plan the museum.