So, Sunday was the day that Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) was to give a big speech on race as part of his state’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. That remarkable feat hinged on his running for the GOP nomination for president, which he opted against. Barbour’s seeming inability to give that speech might have been why. But his remarks Sunday welcoming the Freedom Riders to a state that violently rebuffed them a half century ago must not go unheralded.
On behalf of the state and the people of Mississippi it is . . . my honor to welcome you to the 50th anniversary celebration of the Freedom Rides. To the Freedom Riders, yourselves, our state does celebrate and thank you for your courage, your commitment, your sufferings and your sacrifices of 50 years ago. We apologize to you for your mistreatment in 1961, and we appreciate this chance for atonement and reconciliation.
The gathered roared their approval with applause and a standing ovation. That’s not surprising. Most Americans admire politicians willing to apologize for past wrongs and are willing to give just about anyone a second chance. Now, just imagine what would have happened if Barbour had given a full-fledged speech on race.