JACKSON, Miss. – Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour says he has little personal recollection of Freedom Summer activities in his state in 1964, when the slayings of three civil rights workers outraged the nation.
Asked by The Associated Press on Thursday how much he remembers about the summer, the potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate said: "Not much."
Barbour said he was a 16-year-old high school student in Yazoo City that summer and didn't pay attention to news coverage. Barbour, who graduated as valedictorian of his high school class in 1965, also said he has no memory of discussions about civil-rights activities at the time.
The governor's remarks came three days after he gave a speech on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in which he condemned violence against civil rights workers in Mississippi in the early 1960s: "Deplorable actions including the murder of innocent people, young men in service to a cause that was right, will always be a stain on our history."
Civil rights workers converged on the state in the summer of 1964 to challenge the state's brutal system of segregation.
James Chaney, who was a black Mississippian, and Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who were white New Yorkers, were slain by Ku Klux Klansman in Philadelphia, Miss., on June 21, 1964. Their bodies were found weeks later in an earthen dam following a massive search led by the FBI.
State Sen. David Jordan of Greenwood, a black Democrat, said Thursday that 1964 was a tumultuous year in Mississippi.
"I think the governor's much too alert to say that he doesn't remember," said Jordan, who was teaching at all-black schools in the Mississippi Delta in 1964. "It was everywhere, an everyday part of life — the resistance and persistence in trying to change it and make it better for those of us who were victimized by it."
Barbour has been criticized in recent months for his take on the civil rights era. He recently called on lawmakers to move forward with stalled plans for a civil rights museum, and said that Freedom Riders coming to the state this spring to mark the 50th anniversary of their challenge to segregation "will find Mississippi an enormously changed state as to race relations."
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