Warning: this article contains descriptions of extremely graphic violence.
By MARC McDONALD
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour recently created a stir with his comments about the Civil Rights era. "I just don't remember it as being that bad," the Republican said.
Well, if you were a white, middle-class male living in the Deep South in the 1960s, it probably wasn't all that bad.
Barbour, you're entitled to your opinion. However, the millions of African-Americans who lived in the Deep South in that era might wish to disagree with you. But then, the gulf that separated their daily lives from your own pampered, sheltered life was trillions of light years.
It probably was pretty nice, living as a white middle-class male in Mississippi in the 1960s. You had the right to vote, for example. You were free to do whatever you wanted, and to go wherever you wanted. You could live your own life, without fear of being killed by terrorist groups like the KKK.
But someone needs to tell Barbour that life was hell on earth for a lot of people in the Deep South for many decades, simply for no other reason than they were born with the wrong skin color.
We all know about slavery. Well, actually, we don't: white America has never really come to grips with what was one of the great crimes of human history. Since slavery was abolished, White America for the most part hasn't lost a second's worth of sleep over the whole matter. The victims of this horror never received a penny in reparations.
In fact, most of White America remains pretty much ignorant of what went on during slavery. We watch bizarre spectacles like the Hollywood film, Gone With the Wind and we think that's what slavery was like. Black people singing songs in the cotton fields, living a colorful agrarian life. Gee, it doesn't sound so bad, after all!
I never cease to be amazed, though, at all the white people I talk to who say things like, "Slavery happened a long time ago. Black people should get over it and move on with their lives." It's easy, of course, for them to say that.
But here's a truth that I rarely hear mentioned anywhere. You could take a surgeon's scalpel to the history of the United States and cut out the entire sordid tale of slavery and you would STILL have a horrific tale of violence and oppression against black people that could rank with the great crimes of world history.
A lot of white Americans (particularly Republicans like Barbour) seem to think that no mistreatment of any black person ever occurred after 1865. They completely downplay or ignore the horrors visited upon African-Americans for an entire century after the Civil War: the Jim Crow laws, KKK terrorism, the exploitative sharecropper system, the lynching era, etc. etc.
And Ground Zero for a lot of this horror was right in Barbour's own state of Mississippi, whether he realizes it or not.
After all, in the same era that Barbour doesn't recall being "that bad," three civil rights workers were brutally lynched in cold blood in 1964, in Mississippi.
In fact, thousands of black people were lynched in the Deep South in the century following the Civil War. And in the period from 1882 to 1968, Mississippi led the nation with at least 581 lynchings.
Not only did Mississippi lead the nation in lynchings of black people, but the lynchings there were among the most vicious and gruesome.
Take, for example, the lynching of Luther Holbert and his wife.
In 1904, Holbert, an African-American sharecropper, and his wife were lynched in Doddsville, Mississippi. The couple were tied to trees and tortured for hours by a bloodthirsty mob.
As the Vicksburg Evening Post reported, the couple were forced to hold out their hands, while their fingers and ears were chopped off, one by one and then distributed to the crowd as souvenirs. Holbert was beaten badly, and one of his eyeballs was knocked out.
The newspaper article continues: "Some of the mob used a large corkscrew to bore into the flesh of the man and woman. It was applied to their arms, legs, and body, then pulled out, the spirals tearing out big pieces of raw, quivering flesh every time it was withdrawn."
Then, Holbert and his wife were soaked with oil and burned alive.
Such was life in the brutal Jim Crow era of Mississippi, which continued a century after the Civil War, until the 1964 Civil Rights Act sought to bring it to an end.
But as far as Barbour is concerned, things just weren't "that bad" in that turbulent era.
Of course, the sad thing is that, with his idiotic comments, Barbour likely hasn't damaged his reputation at all---at least among his fellow Republicans.
Recall how during the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush made it a point to stop by Bob Jones University, where he praised the officials at that school (which incredibly still had a ban on interracial dating). This, no doubt, played real well to the "I don't want my white daughter dating a Negro" racist crowd---the same people who are defending Barbour's comments today.