Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith is headed for a run-off election against Mike Espy, a Democratic challenger who, if elected, would be the state’s first black Senator since Reconstruction. With that historic opportunity in mind, then, please note that on Sunday a video surfaced on social media showing Hyde-Smith making a joke about attending a public hanging, conveniently forgetting (or not!) that Mississippi had the most post-Civil War lynchings of any state in the country.
The video was posted to Twitter by Lamar White, Jr. on Sunday, who says it was taken while the Republican Hyde-Smith campaigned for cattle rancher Colin Hutchinson in Tupelo, Mississippi. “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row,” Hyde-Smith says to a group of white people. They all laugh. Here it is!
According to the NAACP, Mississippi had 581 recorded lynchings from 1882 to 1968, making up one-eighth of all lynchings in the United States during that period. In fact, Mississippi had the most recorded lynchings of any state. It was in Mississippi that 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in 1955, transforming him posthumously into one of history’s most recognizable civil rights icons.
So, while public hangings are never joke-worthy, they are all the less joke-worthy in a state once bloodied and brutalized by them, and the Internet was quick to point this out. Shaun King called Hyde-Smith’s remark “unthinkable.” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson called it “sick” and “shameful.” Even Rand Paul’s chief strategist seemed taken aback:
Espy responded to the video, calling it “reprehensible,” according to the Washington Post. “They have no place in our political discourse, in Mississippi, or our country,” he said. “We need leaders, not dividers, and her words show that she lacks the understanding and judgment to represent the people of our state.”
Hyde-Smith, who was endorsed by Donald Trump, claimed in a statement that the backlash was overblown. “In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement,” she said, according to the Washington Post. “In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.”
How nice for Hyde-Smith, to be able to dismiss the hurt and horror sustained by a century’s worth of brutal, racist violence in her own state as “ridiculous.” I look forward to her next stint on the campaign trail, which I can only assume will include a line about loving a candidate so much she’d “burn a cross on a lawn” for him.
Hyde-Smith and Espy’s runoff election is on November 27.