|Ross Barnett, 1964|
|52nd Governor of Mississippi|
January 19, 1960 – January 21, 1964
|Lieutenant||Paul B. Johnson, Jr.|
|Preceded by||James P. Coleman|
|Succeeded by||Paul B. Johnson, Jr.|
|Born||Ross Robert Barnett
January 22, 1898
Standing Pine, Mississippi
|Died||November 6, 1987
|Political party||Democratic (Dixiecrat)|
|Spouse(s)||Mary Pearl Crawford|
Ross Robert Barnett (January 22, 1898 – November 6, 1987) was the governor of Mississippi from 1960 to 1964. He was a prominent member of the Dixiecrats, Southern Democrats who supported segregation.
Born in Standing Pine in Leake County, Barnett was the youngest of ten children of a Confederate veteran. He served in the United States Army during World War I, then worked in a variety of jobs while earning an undergraduate degree from Mississippi College in Clinton in 1922. Four years later, he followed that with an LL.B. from the University of Mississippi in Oxford. In 1929, he married Mary Pearl Crawford, a schoolteacher, with the couple's long-time union producing two daughters and a son.
Over the next quarter century, Barnett became one of the state's most successful trial lawyers, earning more than $100,000 per year while specializing in damage suits. He often donated his skills to causes, and served as president of the Mississippi Bar Association for two years beginning in 1943.
Using the income derived from his legal fees, Barnett sought to try his hand at politics, unsuccessfully running twice for Governor of Mississippi, in 1951 and 1955. On his third try in 1959, he won the election and was inaugurated on January 19, 1960. During his term in office he celebrated the centennial of the American Civil War. Barnett traveled to Civil War sites to pay homage to fallen "Sons Of Mississippi".
Barnett arranged for the arrest of Freedom Riders in 1961 and then imprisoned them in Parchman Farm. While the offenses were minor, the Freedom Riders were strip-searched, had beds taken away, and were humiliated and brutalized in the prison. While this approach was popular in the state, it was done in part to blunt the criticism he was receiving for a variety of reasons: failing to follow through with promises of jobs for office-seekers; filling those jobs with acquaintances, and attempting to wrest control of state agencies from the legislature. Barnett was a member of the white supremacist Citizens' Council movement as well.
In 1962, he actively opposed James Meredith's efforts to desegregate his alma mater, the University of Mississippi. As a result, Barnett was fined $10,000 and sentenced to jail for contempt but never paid the fine or served a day in jail. This was because the charges were terminated (civil) and dismissed (criminal) by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, due to "substantial compliance with orders of the court," and "in view of changed circumstances and conditions." Only two Mississippi legislators opposed Barnett's efforts to defy the federal authorities, Joe Wroten and Karl Wiesenburg.
On the night before the Ole Miss riot of 1962 protesting Meredith's entry to the university, Barnett gave his famous fifteen-word "I Love Mississippi" speech at the University of Mississippi football game in Jackson. The Ole Miss Rebels were playing the Kentucky Wildcats. 41,000 fans cheered at the stadium waving thousands of Confederate flags. At halftime, a gigantic Confederate flag was unveiled on the field. The crowd shouted "We want Ross!". Barnett went to the field, grabbed the microphone at the 50-yard line and said to an enthusiastic crowd:
"I love Mississippi! I love her people! Our customs. I love and respect our heritage."
Until the 1960s, Mississippians had known no alternative to segregation, and many linked the separation to the Bible. Barnett, a Baptist Sunday school teacher, declared "The Good Lord was the original segregationist. He put the black man in Africa. ... He made us white because he wanted us white, and He intended that we should stay that way." Barnett said that Mississippi had the largest percent of black Americans because "they love our way of life here, and that way is segregation."
In 1963, Barnett tried to prevent the men's basketball team of Mississippi State University from playing an NCAA Tournament game against the racially-integrated team from Loyola of Chicago. The team defied Barnett by sneaking out of the state and playing the game, which they lost to the eventual national champions.
Barnett's term as governor officially expired on January 21, 1964, with the swearing-in of his successor, the outgoing lieutenant governor, Paul B. Johnson, Jr. Barnett was known for his strong opposition to the development of the two-party system in the former Democratic stronghold of Mississippi. In 1963, while campaigning for Paul Johnson, who faced the challenge of the Republican Rubel Phillips, Barnett urged his state's Democrats to "push out this Republican threat" and added that he was "fed up with these fence-riding, pussy-footing, snow-digging Yankee Republicans."
Barnett was expected by some to run in the 1964 Democratic presidential primaries as a segregationist candidate against incumbent U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, but did not. Governor George C. Wallace of Alabama subsequently assumed this role in part, while not running openly against Johnson, but rather testing his popularity in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Maryland.
Shortly after he left office, Barnett's looming presence was evident at the first trial of white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith in February 1964. De La Beckwith was on trial for the murder of African American civil rights activist Medgar Evers, but an all-white jury was unable to agree on a verdict in both this and a subsequent re-trial. In the second subsequent re-trial, former Governor Ross Barnett interrupted the proceedings—while Myrlie Evers was testifying—to shake hands with Beckwith. De La Beckwith was eventually convicted at a subsequent trial three decades later, a case chronicled in the movie Ghosts of Mississippi.
On March 18, 1966, former United States Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who frequently conversed by telephone with Barnett during the Meredith crisis in attempts to secure peacefully Meredith's enrollment at Ole Miss, visited the campus. In a speech before more than six thousand students and faculty, Kennedy discussed racial reconciliation and answered questions, including those about his role in Meredith's enrollment. To much laughter from the audience members, he told of a plan in which Barnett had asked that U.S. marshals point their guns at him while Meredith attempted to enroll so that "a picture could be taken of the event." He also drew laughter by recounting another plan where Meredith would go to Jackson to enroll while Barnett remained in Oxford, "and when Meredith was registered, he (Barnett) would feign surprise." Both plans were approved by Kennedy and failed only because of the development of events. When Kennedy finished his speech and question-and-answer session, he was greeted by a standing ovation.
The next day Barnett bitterly attacked Kennedy's version of events, saying in part:
"It ill becomes a man who never tried a lawsuit in his life, but who occupied the high position of United States attorney general and who was responsible for using 30,000 troops and spent approximately six million dollars to put one unqualified student in Ole Miss to return to the scene of this crime and discuss any phase of this infamous affair. . . I say to you that Bobby Kennedy is a very sick and dangerous American. We have lots of sick Americans in this country but most of them have a long beard. Bobby Kennedy is a hypocritical, left-wing beatnik without a beard who carelessly and recklessly distorts the facts."
Barnett attempted a political comeback by running for governor again in 1967 but lost, finishing a distant fourth in the state primary. He then returned to the practice of law, but remained unrepentant about his past, saying, "Generally speaking, I'd do the same things again."
In 2007, his granddaughter, Judith Barnett, was a Democratic candidate for Justice Court judge in Hinds County, District One.[clarification needed]
- "Mississippi Mud". Time (magazine). September 7, 1959.
- 'Freedom Riders Documentary, NJTV'
- "Ross Barnett, Segregationist, Dies; Governor of Mississippi in 1960's". The New York Times. November 7, 1987.
- Sitton, Claude (June 13, 1963). "N.A.A.C.P. Leader Slain in Jackson; Protests Mount". New York Times. reprinted in Carson, Clayborne; Garrow, David J.; Kovach, Bill (2003). Reporting Civil Rights: American journalism, 1941–1963. Library of America. pp. 831–835. Retrieved September 14, 2011.
- Bryant 2006, 66.
- Memphis Commercial Appeal, September 12, 1963
- Jackson Clarion-Ledger, September 25, 1963; James W. Silver, Mississippi: The Closed Society (New York, 1966), pp. 273-274
- Hattiesburg American, October 16, 1963; Time magazine, October 25, 1963, p. 29
- Jody Carlson, George C. Wallace and the Politics of Powerlessness: The Wallace Campaigns for the Presidency, 1964–1976, Transaction Publishers, 1981, ISBN 978-0-87855-344-0, ISBN 978-0-87855-344-0
- "Hung Jury". Time (magazine). February 14, 1964.
- Bryant 2006, 63.
- Bryant 2006, 63., 66.
- "Students Give Kennedy Very Cordial Reception", Jackson, Miss. Clarion-Ledger, March 19, 1966, p. 1, 8.
- "Barnett Attacks Kennedy's Claims", Jackson, Miss. Clarion-Ledger, March 20, 1966, p. 1, 14A.
- Bryant, Nick (Autumn 2006). "Black Man Who Was Crazy Enough to Apply to Ole Miss". The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (53): 60–71.
James P. Coleman
|Governor of Mississippi
Paul B. Johnson, Jr.