Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's memory of a 1962 event in which he claimed he and some friends had gone to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak in his hometown of Yazoo City, Miss., was called into question this weekend, in a report by the Clarion Ledger.
"We wanted to hear him speak," Barbour told the Weekly Standard of King in a December interview that stirred controversy due to his claim that the civil rights era wasn't "that bad" in Mississippi. "The truth is, we couldn't hear very well. We were sort of out there on the periphery. We just sat on our cars, watching the girls, talking, doing what boys do. We paid more attention to the girls than to King."
The new examination by the Clarion Ledger, however, raises questions about the veracity of Barbour's account:
A search of the King Papers at the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute and the papers of David Garrow, author of the definitive biography on King, Bearing the Cross, failed to find evidence King spoke in Yazoo City in 1962.
Despite David Garrow's inability to find any evidence of King speaking in Yazoo City, he was unwilling to charge the governor with intentionally misstating history.
"It's fundamentally unfair of people to gang up on Barbour because he's got some fuzzy memory of an event from 40-plus years ago that he didn't particularly focus on at the time," Garrow told the Ledger.
Barbour's campaign has maintained to the Ledger that the governor indeed "saw Dr. King in Yazoo City," but the best evidence the newspaper could find of a King appearance in the town was from the Yazoo Herald on June 23, 1966:
"Martin Luther King was expected in Yazoo City Tuesday and Wednesday, but made no public appearance," the paper reported at the time. "It was learned later that he did meet in secret with some of the marchers, presumably to plan strategy."
For more, check out the Clarion Ledger.