Ross Barnett

Ross Barnett

Infobox Governor
name= Ross Robert Barnett

imagesize = 150px
office= Governor of Mississippi
term_start = January 19, 1960
term_end = January 21, 1964
lieutenant= Paul B. Johnson, Jr.
predecessor= James P. Coleman
successor= Paul B. Johnson, Jr.
date of birth= birth date|1898|1|22|mf=y
place of birth= Standing Pine, Mississippi
date of death= death date and age|1987|11|6|1898|1|22|mf=y
place of death = Jackson, Mississippi
spouse= Mary Pearl Crawford
profession= Lawyer
party= Democratic
religion= Baptist

Ross Robert Barnett (January 22, 1898ndash 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.cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |quote= |title=Mississippi Mud |url=,9171,825882,00.html|work=Time (magazine) |publisher= |date=September 7, 1959 ] 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 white supremacist 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".

On all three occasions, Barnett freely used racial epithets in his campaign speeches. His belief that, "the Negro is different because God made him different to punish him. His forehead slants back. His nose is different. His lips are different, and his color is sure different.", helped him win the election.

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. In addition, he spent more than $300,000 to outfit the governor's mansion's bathtubs with gold-plated faucet handles.cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |quote= |title=Ross Barnett, Segregationist, Dies; Governor of Mississippi in 1960's |url=|work=The New York Times |publisher= |date=November 7, 1987 ]

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. 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.

To his credit, he was very successful in spurring industrial development as a balance to the agriculturally based economy.

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

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. [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |quote= |title=Hung Jury |url=,9171,870731-2,00.html|work=Time (magazine) |publisher= |date=February 14, 1964 ] 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".

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."

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

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


External links

* [ Ross Barnett] at Find-A-Grave

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