Ben Carson’s Mississippi Campaign Chair Opposed Civil Rights Act, Supported Jim Crow

The Right’s resident Uncle Ruckus of the 2016 campaign trail, Ben Carson, has encountered a bit of a Rand Paul-esque problem in hiring his new Mississippi chairman. On Friday, the 2016 hopeful announced that he has chosen former federal judge Charles W. Pickering to head up his campaign in the Magnolia State, and the Bush-appointed judge says he is honored that Carson has  “trust and confidence” in him. According to Pickering, Carson has “integrity and moral authority to lead and bring America together.” Unfortunately, Carson may be the only “black friend” Pickering has ever had.

You see, Pickering is exactly the sort of person who should not be involved in political discourse today. Not only did he oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but the Bush appointee supported both Jim Crow and segregation. In fact, he left the Democratic Party in 1964 to protest the Left’s support of civil rights and disdain for segregation. When George W. Bush appointed Pickering to the Fifth Circuit in 2004, Democrats tried unsuccessfully to block the nomination. At the time, CNN noted Pickering’s criticism of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and his attempt to figure out a way to ban interracial marriage in a way that would survive constitutional challenges.

Papers belonging to Pickering’s former law partner, J. Carroll Gartin, reveal that Carson’s new Mississippi chair, despite his claims that he was “trying to establish better race relations” in the 1960s, actually spent his time spouting the same rhetoric the Tea Party loves today, and attempting to undo any progress made regarding civil rights. Salon’s Sean Wilentz noted in 2003:

The new evidence, housed at the University of Mississippi Library, shows that Pickering’s decision to defect to the Republicans — a key turning point in his public career — came at the strong urging of Gartin, who as lieutenant governor from 1956 to 1960 and again from 1964 until his sudden death in 1966 was a leading member of Mississippi’s notoriously racist Sovereignty Commission. Gartin’s papers — including his personal letters and other private documents, plus memos, press releases and news clippings from the time — also confirm, in more detail than ever before, that Pickering became a Republican in 1964 to protest the national Democratic Party’s support for civil rights and its attacks on segregation — a motive the judge refused to acknowledge in his testimony last year.

“Gartin’s papers show conclusively that, contrary to McConnell’s description, Pickering himself was one of those ‘white citizens and politicians who resisted integration and civil rights,’ not someone working to oppose such forces,” Wilentz wrote, adding:

Instead of “trying to establish better race relations” in the 1960s, Pickering worked to support segregation, attack civil rights advocates who sought to end Jim Crow, and back those who opposed national civil rights legislation, above all the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Or, in the words of a public statement he signed in 1967, Pickering wanted to preserve “our southern way of life,” and he bitterly blamed civil rights workers for stirring up “turmoil and racial hatred” in the South.

“Pickering also testified that he worked closely with the FBI in the 1960s to prosecute the Klu Klux Klan,” ThinkProgress notes of Pickering’s past. “Although true, he distorted the truth when he testified that he contacted Mississippi’s notoriously racist Sovereignty Commission about possible KKK infiltration of a union in his hometown — Wilentz reported that Pickering actually contacted the commission about union infiltration by a well-known civil rights organization, not the KKK.”

Pickering, of course, denies that he is a racist. “To accuse a white southerner of being a racist is about the worst thing you can do. And this has been my life work,” he told 60 Minutes in 2004. “I have worked for more than three decades trying to provide better relations between the races, trying to protect equal rights. That’s my core being. And they’ve attacked that.”

One of the many ways in which he tried to “provide better relations” was by pressuring prosecutors in a KKK cross-burning case to drop federal hate crime charges against a KKK cross-burner. He succeeded, and sentenced the man to 2 1/2 years in prison, cutting the Klansman’s prison time in half. The man’s two accomplices did not serve a single day.

“My family suffered horribly as a result of the cross-burning,” the victim said at the time in a letter to Senator Leahy. “I’m astonished that the judge would have gone to such lengths to thwart the judgment of the jury and to reduce the sentence of a person who caused so much harm to me and my family.”

While Pickering will certainly be a hit with conservatives, one must wonder why Carson — an African-America — would sell out to racists in his effort to become President. Of course, given Carson’s conservative leanings, it is unsurprising that he would choose someone who identifies with his base — people who cheered the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, would love to see a return of segregation, and who think interracial marriage is icky. To them, Carson is one of the few “good ones,” who realizes that (as a whole) black people are ignorant and worthy of nothing more than servitude.


Featured Image via Twitter/Dark Horse Mississippi