"In May 1866, a little group of young men in the Tennessee village of Pulaski, finding their time hang heavily on their hands after the excitement of the field, so lately abandoned, formed a secret club for the mere pleasure of association, for private amusement -- for anything that might break the monotony of the too quiet place, as their wits might work upon the matter, and one of their number suggested that they call themselves the Kuklos, the Circle."
This prettified depiction of the founding of the Ku Klux Klan is from "A History of the American People" by Princeton professor and future President Woodrow Wilson.
The main activities of the Klan, wrote Wilson, were "pranks," "mischief" and "frolicking." Occasionally they did prey upon blacks, Wilson conceded, but black fears of the Klan were "comic."
In "Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party's Buried Past," Bruce Bartlett relates countless such anecdotes to show that while the Republican Party is endlessly smeared as racist, at its worst, it could not hold a candle to the party of Wilson and FDR.
What brings this history up is the media assault on Gov. Haley Barbour for his answer to an interviewer's question as to why his hometown, Yazoo City, avoided the violence that attended the desegregation of other cities in the Mississippi of his youth. Haley's reply:
"You heard of the Citizens' Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City, they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their a-- run out of town. If you had a job, you'd lose it. If you had a store, they'd see nobody shopped there. We didn't have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City."
No one has contradicted the facts as stated by Haley, that the Citizens' Council of Yazoo City consisted of "town leaders" who did not want any Klan violence ripping their town apart.
But if Haley had meant to leave the impression that the White Citizens' Councils were promoting peaceful integration, that would have been laughable. Like almost all the U.S. senators from the 11 states of the Old Confederacy who signed the Dixie Manifesto opposing the Brown decision, the White Citizens' Councils believed in massive resistance to integration.
After 24 hours of media bashing, Haley sought to silence his tormenters with this clarification: