UPDATE: Spokesman for the governor responds, says Barbour is not a racist

After facing scrutiny for praising a segregationist group, a spokesman for Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour told TalkingPointsMemo that "you're trying to paint the governor as a racist and nothing could be further from the truth."

The governor recently praised the Citizens' Council, a group that fought racial desegregation during the civil rights-era, for preventing violence in his hometown of Yazoo City.

"It was an organization in Yazoo City that was, you know, a group of the town leaders and business people," Dan Turner, the official spokesman Gov. Barbour, said. "Tell me what in Gov. Barbour's past gives any indication of any racist leanings, and I'll be glad to address the question... There's nothing in his past that shows that."

Original story continues below...

In a recent profile published by conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a potential Republican presidential candidate, praised a civil rights-era organization dedicated to blocking racial integration.

Barbour claimed that the Citizens Council movement helped avert violence in his hometown of Yazoo City, after schools were ordered to desegregate.

There was no violence "because the business community wouldn't stand for it," he said. "You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you'd lose it. If you had a store, they'd see nobody shopped there. We didn't have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City."

The White Citizens' Council, later known as the Citizens' Councils of America, fought against racial desegregation in the fifties and sixties after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Unlike the Klu Klux Klan, the segregationist group publicly renounced the use of violence, preferring to use economic reprisals against those who supported desegregation.

During his 2003 gubernatorial election campaign Gov. Barbour received criticism from Democrats and others for appearing in a photo at a barbecue sponsored by the Council of Conservative Citizens, the successor organization to the Citizens' Councils of America. The photo appeared on the Council of Conservative Citizens website next to a blurb calling for the release of neo-Nazi author Ernest Zundel.

The group is currently planning a boycott of Marvel Studios upcoming movie Thor because it "gives Norse mythology an insulting multi-cultural make-over" by having a black man play a Norse deity.

Gov. Barbour said the segregationist group's views were "indefensible" but allowed the group to keep his photo on their website. "Once you start down the slippery slope of saying, 'That person can't be for me,' then where do you stop?"

He also told the The Weekly Standard that he attended a speech by the civil rights champion Martin Luther King Jr. in 1962 while was in high school, but was not all that interested in King's speech.

"I don’t really remember," Gov. Barbour said. "The truth is, we couldn't hear very well. We were sort of out there on the periphery. We just sat on our cars, watching the girls, talking, doing what boys do. We paid more attention to the girls than to King."

Gov. Barbour, who is also the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, is expected to run for president in 2012.

"A year ago, he was saying no way, but now he's saying to [donors and operatives] to keep their powder dry," a friend of the governor told Politico.