By William Fisher
The state of Mississippi, which ranks last in just about everything, is about to be first in something.
And that something is almost as bizarre as who’s making it happen.
The “what” of this story: Starting with the 2011-2012 school curriculum, civil rights will be a required course for all Mississippi students from kindergarten to 12th grade all across the state. State officials believe Mississippi could be the first state to require civil rights studies throughout all grades in its public school systems.
The “who” of this story: None other than Haley Barbour, Mississippi’s flaming civil libertarian governor. For it was this cherubic presidential wanabee who signed the new curriculum into law five years ago.
Barbour told the Associated Press he sees the value in the new curriculum.
"To not know history is to repeat it. And to learn the good things about Mississippi and America and the bad things about Mississippi and America is important for every Mississippian," Barbour said of the new curriculum.
Three cheers for the governor!
And, yes, this is the same Haley Barbour who dove into deep doodoo by rewriting history to transform the White Citizens Council in his hometown, Yazoo City, Miss., from a bunch of segregationist rednecks determined to thwart the orders of the Supreme Court to a community of upright business leaders and parents focused on keeping the Ku Klux Klan out of town.
Barbour told The Weekly Standard he didn't remember the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 60s as "being that bad."
But then, predictably, the Governor was obliged to back off from singing the praises of the champions of segregation after his remarks caught the attention of the media nationwide.
"When asked why my home town in Mississippi did not suffer the same racial violence when I was a young man that accompanied other towns' integration efforts, I accurately said the community leadership wouldn't tolerate it and helped prevent violence there," Barbour said in a statement.
"My point was my town rejected the Ku Klux Klan, but nobody should construe that to mean I think the town leadership were saints, either. Their vehicle, called the 'Citizens Council,' is totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country, and especially African Americans who were persecuted in that time."
But then, as if to confirm his liberal instincts and outrage at racial injustice, Barbour just this week indefinitely suspended the outrageous prison sentences of Jaime and Gladys Scott, sisters who were convicted in 1994 of an armed robbery that yielded $11 -- a crime in which they have consistently denied any involvement.
A judge with a well-documented reputation for racism sentenced both sisters to double-life sentences. They have been imprisoned ever since, despite troubling questions regarding the accuracy of witness testimony, possible coercion, and the sisters’ insistence that they had nothing to do with the crime.
According to Barbour the Compassionate, Gladys Scott’s freedom is contingent on her donating her kidney to sister Jaime, who is suffering from kidney failure and requires regular dialysis.
Let us hope that the ordeal of the Scott sisters will work its way into the new civil rights curriculum. Along with the murders of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and hundreds of others.
Conveniently, the Governor’s decision in the Scott case came just a day before his meeting with NAACP President Ben Jealous and Mississippi NAACP State Conference President Derrick Johnson. The NAACP played a major role in persuading Barbour to issue the indefinite suspension of the Scotts’ sentence.
Surely freeing the Scotts is intended to burnish Barbour’s credentials as a fair-minded, color-blind son of the New South. That is seen as a “must do” if Barbour is serious about seeking the Oval Office in 2012. He cannot even be a contender without some of the black and brown votes won by Obama in 2008.
American voters are frequently praised by politicians and journalists alike for their “common sense.” Give an American the facts and he or she will likely make the right decision, the line goes. This is a big part of the narrative of American Exceptionalism that persists and flourishes despite historical facts to the contrary.
American voters may have common sense but they also tend to have very short memories. So we can only live in hope that they will remember to ask the governor where he has been since 1994.
The Scott sisters will have no trouble remembering where they were.