By The Associated Press
JACKSON — Gov. Haley Barbour — under fire recently for comments critics claim minimized the problems of Mississippi’s civil rights era — said in his final State of the State speech Tuesday night that the state should build a museum dedicated to the movement.
In the prepared text of his speech, which he delivered Tuesday night, 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.
Historians say the Citizens Council helped enforce segregation in Mississippi through social pressure, including publishing the names of black people who wanted to send their children to the white public schools.
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 is in the final year of his second term and can’t seek re-election this year. Most of the 174 lawmakers are expected to run again, and Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is among at least a half-dozen candidates vying for governor.
Barbour said he wants lawmakers to be cautious in setting a state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and he’d like to leave them about $200 million in financial reserves.
“I realize this is an election year, and every penny of appropriated money has a constituency,” Barbour said. “You will get pressure to spend more for this and more for that.”