Maybe it was meant as a joke, but when you talk about public hangings in Mississippi a lot of people do not think it is funny. And that is what Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith just did, causing a storm of controversy in her current senate race against an African American opponent.
“Mississippi Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith joked about going “front row” to a “public hanging” in a video posted to Twitter on Sunday morning, prompting her African-American opponent to call her comment “reprehensible.”
Mississippi Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith joked about going "front row" to a "public hanging" in a video posted to Twitter on Sunday morning, prompting her African-American opponent to call her comment "reprehensible." https://t.co/hacRfWbEVb pic.twitter.com/kXp9alC1ls
— CNN (@CNN) November 12, 2018
A video that was published online shows Hyde-Smith praising a colleague at a political event by saying: “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”
The white senator is facing a black Democratic challenger in a November 27 runoff.
Hyde-Smith said Sunday that her remark was “an exaggerated expression of regard” for someone who invited her to speak, and “any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.”
It may be ridiculous if Mississippi didn’t have such a bitter history of racially motivated lynchings of black people. The website of the National Associate for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) says that there were 4,743 lynchings in the United States between 1882 and 1968. Almost all of the victims were black and Mississippi had 581 lynchings during that time period, more than any other state.
“Hyde-Smith’s decision to joke about “hanging,” when the history of African-Americans is marred by countless incidents of this barbarous act, is sick,” said NAACP President Derrick Johnson in a statement Sunday. “Any politician seeking to serve as a national voice of the people of Mississippi should know better.”
Hyde-Smith is being challenged in her bid for reelection by former congressman and former U.S. agriculture secretary Mike Espy.
“Cindy Hyde-Smith’s comments are reprehensible,” Espy’s campaign spokesman said in a statement. “They have no place in our political discourse, in Mississippi, or our country. We need leaders, not dividers, and her words show that she lacks the understanding and judgment to represent the people of our state.”
The video of Hyde-Smith’s remarks was recorded in the city of Tupelo, in front of a statue of Elvis Presley, who was born in Tupelo. It shows a fellow cattle rancher introducing her and then Hyde-Smith making her remarks, with a group of white people applauding her.
Mississippi Republican Governor Phil Bryant appointed Hyde-Smith to temporarily succeed GOP Senator Thad Cochran who retired for health reasons in April.
Hyde-Smith and Espy each received about 41 percent of the vote in a four-person race on Tuesday. This means they now proceed to the runoff election. The winner gets the final two years of Cochran’s six-year term.
In 1986 the well-regarded Espy became the first African-American since Reconstruction to win a U.S. House seat in Mississippi. If he is victorious over Hyde-Smith, he would also be the first African-American since Reconstruction to represent the state in the U.S. Senate.
Hyde-Smith, has been strongly endorsed by President Donald Trump. She is the first woman to represent Mississippi in either chamber of Congress.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.