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Ross Robert Barnett

In office
January 19, 1960 – January 21, 1964
Lieutenant Paul B. Johnson, Jr.
Preceded by James P. Coleman
Succeeded by Paul B. Johnson, Jr.

Born January 22, 1898(1898-01-22)
Standing Pine, Mississippi
Died November 6, 1987 (aged 89)
Jackson, Mississippi
Political party Democratic (Dixiecrat)
Spouse(s) Mary Pearl Crawford
Profession Lawyer
Religion Baptist

Ross Robert Barnett (January 22, 1898 – November 6, 1987) was the Democratic governor of the U.S. state of Mississippi from 1960 to 1964.

Born in Standing Pine in Leake County, Barnett was the youngest of ten children of a Confederate veteran.[1] He served in the United States Army during World War I, then worked in a variety of jobs while earning an undergraduate degree from Mississippi College in Clinton in 1922. Four years later, he followed that with an LL.B. from the University of Mississippi in Oxford. In 1929, he married Mary Pearl Crawford, a schoolteacher, with the couple's long-time union producing two daughters and a son.

Over the next quarter century, Barnett became one of the state's most successful trial lawyers, earning more than $100,000 per year while specializing in damage suits. He often donated his skills to causes, and served as president of the Mississippi Bar Association for two years beginning in 1943.

Using the income derived from his legal fees, Barnett sought to try his hand at politics, unsuccessfully running twice for Governor of Mississippi, in 1951 and 1955. On his third try in 1959, he won the election and was formally inaugurated on January 19, 1960. During his term in office he celebrated the centennial of the American Civil War. Barnett travelled to Civil War sites to pay homage to fallen "Sons Of Mississippi".

During his time as governor, Barnett, a staunch segregationist, became noted for his tumultuous clashes with the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. While this approach was popular in the state, it was done in part to blunt the criticism he was receiving for a variety of reasons: failing to follow through with promises of jobs for office-seekers; filling those jobs with acquaintances; and attempting to wrest control of state agencies from the legislature. [2]

In 1962, he actively opposed James Meredith's efforts to desegregate his alma mater, the University of Mississippi. As a result, Barnett was fined $10,000 and sentenced to jail for contempt but never paid the fine or served a day in jail.[2] This was because the charges were terminated (civil) and dismissed (criminal) by the 5th Cir. Ct. of Appeals, due to "substantial compliance with orders of the court," and "in view of changed circumstances and conditions."

Barnett gave his "I Love Mississippi" speech at a 1962 University of Mississippi football game in Jackson. This occurred the night before the riots at Ole Miss' Oxford campus over the admission of Meredith to the University.

The following year, he also actively tried to prevent the Mississippi State University basketball team from playing an NCAA Tournament game against the racially integrated team from Loyola of Chicago. The team defied Barnett by sneaking out of the state and playing the game, which they lost to the eventual national champions.

He was very successful in spurring industrial development as a balance to the agriculturally-based economy.

Barnett as a young attorney.

Barnett's term as governor officially expired on January 21, 1964, with the swearing-in of his successor, Paul B. Johnson, Jr..

Barnett was expected by many to run in the 1964 Democratic presidential primaries as a segregationist candidate against incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson, but he did not. Governor of Alabama George Wallace assumed this role in part, while not running openly against Johnson, but rather testing his popularity[3].

Shortly after he left office, Barnett's looming presence was clearly evident at the first trial of white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith in February 1964.[4] De La Beckwith was on trial for the murder of African American civil rights activist Medgar Evers, but an all-white jury was unable to agree on a verdict in both this and a subsequent re-trial. De La Beckwith was eventually convicted at a subsequent trial three decades later, a case that was chronicled in the movie Ghosts of Mississippi.

On March 18, 1966, former Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who frequently conversed by telephone with Barnett during the Meredith crisis in attempts to peacefully secure Meredith's enrollment at Ole Miss, visited the campus. In a speech before more than six thousand students and faculty, he gave a speech mainly on racial reconciliation as well as answered various questions, including ones about his role in Meredith's enrollment. To much laughter from the audience members, he told of a plan in which Barnett had asked that U.S. Marshalls point their guns at him while Meredith attempted to enroll so that "a picture could be taken of the event." He also drew laughter by recounting another plan where Meredith would go to Jackson to enroll while Barnett remained in Oxford, "and when Meredith was registered, he (Barnett) would feign surprise." When Kennedy finished his speech and question-and-answer session, he was greeted by a standing ovation.[5]

The next day Barnett bitterly attacked Kennedy's version of events, saying in part:

"It ill becomes a man who never tried a law suit in his life, but who occupied the high position of United States attorney general and who was responsible for using 30,000 troops and spent approximately six million dollars to put one unqualified student in Ole Miss to return to the scene of this crime and discuss any phase of this infamous affair. . . I say to you that Bobby Kennedy is a very sick and dangerous American. We have lots of sick Americans in this country but most of them have a long beard. Bobby Kennedy is a hypocritical, left wing beatnik without a beard who carelessly and recklessly distorts the facts."[6]

Gov. Barnett with President William David McCain (left) of Mississippi Southern College at signing of bill granting the college university status. At right is then Lt. Governor Paul B. Johnson who would follow Barnett as governor.

Barnett attempted a political comeback by running for governor again in 1967 but lost, finishing a distant fourth in the state primary. He then returned to the practice of law, but remained unrepentant about his past, saying, "Generally speaking, I'd do the same things again."[2]

In 2007, his granddaughter, Judith Barnett, was a Democratic candidate for Justice Court judge in Hinds County, District One.

Gov. Barnnett promoted Mississippi’s Confederate heritage

Ross Barnett Reservoir, north of Jackson, Mississippi, is named in his honor, as is Barnett Lake in Smith County, Mississippi.


  1. ^ "Mississippi Mud". Time (magazine). September 7, 1959.,9171,825882,00.html.  
  2. ^ a b c "Ross Barnett, Segregationist, Dies; Governor of Mississippi in 1960's". The New York Times. November 7, 1987.  
  3. ^ Jody Carlson, George C. Wallace and the Politics of Powerlessness: The Wallace Campaigns for the Presidency, 1964-1976, Transaction Publishers, 1981, ISBN 0878553444, 9780878553440
  4. ^ "Hung Jury". Time (magazine). February 14, 1964.,9171,870731-2,00.html.  
  5. ^ "Students Give Kennedy Very Cordial Reception", Jackson, Miss. Clarion-Ledger, March 19, 1966, p. 1, 8.
  6. ^ "Barnett Attacks Kennedy's Claims", Jackson, Miss. Clarion-Ledger, March 20, 1966, p. 1, 14A.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
James P. Coleman
Governor of Mississippi
Succeeded by
Paul B. Johnson, Jr.


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