Jan 13, 2011

Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) testifies at a hearing on the response to Hurricane Katrina, on Capitol Hill in Washington February 2, 2006. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
 
 
 
(Reuters) - Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour drew mixed reactions from analysts on Wednesday for his decision to push for a civil rights museum for his state ahead of a possible presidential bid.

Barbour urged the state's legislature during an annual address to build the $50 million museum in a state that became notorious during the 1950s and 1960s for violent enforcement of racial segregation and opposition to civil and voting rights.

Barbour, the chairman of the Republican Governor's Association, says he is mulling a bid to be his party's nominee in 2012 where he would likely face President Barack Obama vying for a second term in the White House.

The governor apologized last month for saying in a magazine interview that the civil rights era was not "that bad," a comment that put the Republican politician on the defensive.

"I urge you to move this museum forward as an appropriate way to do justice to the Civil Rights Movement and to stand as a monument of remembrance and reconciliation," Barbour said in the speech late on Tuesday.

"The civil rights struggle is an important part of our history, and millions of people are interested in learning more about it. People from around the world would flock to see the museum and learn about the movement," he said.

Some analysts said Barbour's advocacy, driven by a desire to remake the state's image, was also in part an attempt to deflect criticism over his December remarks on civil rights and his apparent defense of the white Citizens Councils, which also opposed civil rights.

Barbour also drew criticism when on December 29 he suspended the life sentences of two African-American sisters convicted of an $11 robbery, releasing them after 16 years in prison saying the dialysis of one was costly for the state and releasing the other on condition she donate a kidney to her ailing sibling.

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