Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) on Tuesday sought to tamp down criticism of his comments on growing up during the civil rights era.

In a lengthy profile published Monday, Barbour was quoted as saying he doesn't remember the civil rights era being "that bad" and praised a controversial "Citizens Council" in his hometown of Yazoo City, Miss., that he said helped keep away the Ku Klux Klan. 


Liberal blogs and the Democratic National Committee ripped Barbour, a potential 2012 presidential candidate, for his comments, saying he is no longer qualified to run for the nation's highest office.

Barbour released a statement Tuesday saying the time period was a "difficult and painful era for Mississippi."

"It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country, and especially African-Americans who were persecuted in that time," he said.

In particular, Barbour received scrutiny for his praise of the Citizens Council, which was filled with segregationist whites. In his statement, the governor called the councils and segregation "totally indefensible."

"When asked why my hometown in Mississippi did not suffer the same racial violence when I was a young man that accompanied other towns' integration efforts, I accurately said the community leadership wouldn't tolerate it and helped prevent violence there," he explained.

"My point was my town rejected the Ku Klux Klan, but nobody should construe that to mean I think the town leadership were saints, either. Their vehicle, called the 'Citizens Council,' is totally indefensible, as is segregation," he added.

Barbour has been widely praised for his term as chairman of the Republican Governors Association this past election cycle.

The GOP picked up six governors seats and the majority of the nation's governorships. The former Republican National Committee chairman was also praised for his fundraising prowess.