1971 One year after the courts forced Mississippi to fully integrate its K -12 public schools, the newly-formed Mississippi Center for Oral History at the University of Southern Mississippi sat down with former governor Ross Barnett to discuss his life and career in politics. Barnett was a good storyteller and had much to share about his childhood and career as a young attorney. During his tenure as governor from 1960-64, Barnett worked hard to bring much needed industry to Mississippi and had several large-scale construction projects of which to boast. But his views and actions as an unrepentant segregationist have rightfully defined his place in history. This episode focuses on his memories and opinions surrounding that time.
Barnett campaigned as a diehard segregationist, promising to maintain the status quo in Mississippi as the winds of change in America began to blow in earnest. That promise would soon be put to the test when a young African American named James Meredith attempted to enroll at the all-white University of Mississippi. After a Supreme Court ruling in his favor, Meredith was finally allowed to enroll at Ole’ Miss in 1962. When President Kennedy sent in troops to enforce the court’s ruling, the standoff turned into a riot. Three years after the riot at Ole’ Miss, it was revealed that Barnett had been in secret negotiations with the Kennedy Administration. He shares his version of those events.
The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission tried to maintain racial segregation by investigating civil rights workers and through public relations campaigns. Barnett discusses traveling the country presenting his views and the hostile reception he received in Michigan. Segregationists claimed the Civil Rights Movement was really a plot to destroy America. In the interview, Barnett argues why integration would ultimately fail and how the communists were involved.
Caution: this episode of Mississippi Moments contains racially derogatory language.