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Haley says she ‘had Black friends growing up’ in follow-up to Civil War question

By Dylan Wells Washington Post

DES MOINES - Nikki Haley continues to do damage control for her omission of slavery in response to a question about the causes of the Civil War last month, and on Thursday defended her response in part by noting, “I had Black friends growing up.”

The former South Carolina governor was asked by an attendee at a town hall in New Hampshire last month about the cause of the war, and made no mention of slavery. After widespread pushback from both sides of the aisle, she acknowledged that the Civil War was “about slavery” and that it was a mistake to omit that fact from her initial answer.

“If you grow up in South Carolina, literally in second and third grade, you learn about slavery. You grow up and you have, you know, I had Black friends growing up. It is a very talked about thing. We have a big history in South Carolina, when it comes to, you know, slavery, when it comes to all the things that happened with the Civil War, all of that,” Haley said at a CNN town hall here.

“I was thinking past slavery, and talking about the lesson that we would learn going forward. I shouldn’t have done that. I should have said slavery but in, in my mind, that’s a given that everybody associates the civil war with slavery,” she continued.

She pointed to her childhood growing up in the only Indian family in a small, rural, racially divided town, and said that racism was discussed more than slavery.

“It was not just slavery that was talked about, it was more about racism that was talked about,” she said. “We had Black friends, we had White friends, but it was always a topic of conversation.”

Haley continued to elaborate on her “share of dealing with race issues” as governor in 2015, including the shooting of an unarmed Black man by a police officer and her role in bringing down the Confederate flag at the state capitol following the murder of nine Black men and women at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston by a White man.

Her response Wednesday and defense that she had Black friends as a child was quickly mocked online by supporters of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who took the stage before Haley for his own CNN town hall. Other Republican lawmakers have faced pushback for similarly pointing out that they have Black friends in their defense when accused of racism.

Haley “hasn’t learned the critical issue of cleaning things up, which is sometimes less is more,” Republican strategist Scott Jennings said in a post-town hall panel on CNN. “It unspools and it unspools … less is more here, take the L and move on.”

Former Trump White House communications director Alyssa Farah Griffin added that “she did herself no favors, and she kind of put herself back where she was at the beginning of this issue.”

Across the aisle, Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison posted on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, that “as a Black Person in SC you can’t escape slavery, Jim Crow and their legacy,” in response to Haley’s answer, claiming her response “was rooted in political appeasement and not grounded in moral truth & clarity.”