JACKSON, Miss. – Possible presidential contender Gov. Haley Barbour—under fire recently for comments that critics claim minimized the problems of Mississippi’s civil rights era—said Tuesday night that his state should build a museum dedicated to the movement.
The Republican, who is considering a 2012 run in what could be a crowded GOP field, also used his 38-minute State of the State speech to criticize the policies of President Barack Obama.
Barbour said 2011 is a good time to move forward with the museum in Jackson. He said that was because it is the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders’ journey that challenged racial segregation and the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.
“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, who’s considering a 2012 presidential run, 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.
Several liberal bloggers said Barbour left an inaccurate impression of the groups, often made up of White supremacists who sought to thwart integration in many areas. Historians also say the Citizens Council helped enforce segregation through social pressure.
But accounts confirm Yazoo City schools integrated peacefully, as Barbour stated.
Some critics, however, said his comments skimmed over the segregationist role the councils played.
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.
Barbour did not mention the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster. 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, adding that $4 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 than in previous State of the State speeches.
“It very much sounded like someone running for president of the United States,” Aldridge said.
Barbour is in the final year of his second term and cannot seek re-election this year.