By: Nate Morris, senior editor
Cindy Hyde-Smith, sitting U.S. Senator from the state of Mississippi, found herself in the midst of a late-election scandal this week after she was caught on video making a joke about lynching in a public forum.
Hyde-Smith, speaking before a group at a campaign event on November 2nd, said of a local cattle rancher “if he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”
The small crowd of white supporters chuckled and applauded.
The statement drew swift and strong condemnation from around the nation, including the campaign of Hyde-Smith’s Democratic opponent, Mark Espy, a Black man and the former Secretary of Agriculture under President Clinton.
Espy’s campaign called Hyde-Smith’s comments “reprehensible”, saying they have “no place in our political discourse”.
Other organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), echoed Espy’s words, saying the sitting Senator “should be ashamed”.
Hyde-Smith, who has flatly refused to apologize for her comments, is now in even hotter water as a second video surfaced Thursday evening seemingly showing her voicing support for efforts of voter suppression.
Speaking to a group of, again, white supporters in Starkville, MS (home of Mississippi State University), Hyde-Smith was asked about polling stations being set-up on college campuses. When one supporter interjected with a quip about limiting access for students at traditionally Democratic voting colleges and universities to vote, Hyde-Smith is heard on video stating:
“There’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who that maybe we don’t want to vote. Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult. So, I think that’s a great idea.”
She, and the crowd, again chuckled.
In Tupelo, MS, Hyde-Smith cracked her “public hanging” ‘joke’ just miles from where Harvey Mabry and a gentleman by the last name of “Davis” were lynched by all-white mobs in the late 1890s.
In Starkville, where Hyde-Smith gleefully endorsed voter suppression (a tactic almost exclusively aimed at Black Americans following Reconstruction), Abe Coleman and Mann Hamilton were also both murdered in lynchings by white mobs in Spring of 1912.
And in Brookhaven, Hyde-Smith’s hometown in the far southwest corner of the state, Lamar Smith became one of nearly a dozen reported lynching victims according to Monroe Work Today. On the morning of August 13, 1955, the civil rights activist and World War I veteran was shot at point blank range on the town’s courthouse lawn after trying to assist Black voters in applying for their absentee ballots so that they could vote in an upcoming runoff election without subjecting themselves to potential violence at their polling places.
Senator Hyde-Smith’s comments, which she continues to downplay as ‘jokes’, are at the very least made with blind ignorance to the history of the state she represents in this nation’s highest legislative body and, at worst, are lobbed in an insidious attempt to incite Mississippi’s racist and all too recent past.
On February 8 of this year, Willie Jones, 21, was found hanging from a tree in his backyard in Scott County, MS. The Sheriff ruled it a suicide, but Willie’s mother insists her son was not suicidal. The local chapters of the NAACP, The New Black Panther Party, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and other pro-bono attorneys recently announced they were supporting the family in their request for a thorough investigation to be conducted.
Willie’s death is the third case in as many years where a Black man’s body was found mysteriously hanging from a tree in Mississippi.
According to the Jackson Free Press, Otis Byrd, 54, was found hanging from a limb fifteen feet above the ground with a bed sheet wrapped around his neck in 2015. There was no chair anywhere around the tree. His death was ruled a suicide.
Phillip Carroll, 22, was also said to have committed suicide when his body was found suspended from a tree in his backyard in 2017.
Mississippi’s soil is soaked with the blood of countless men and women who were beaten and killed in the struggle for justice, a struggle that continues to this day.
On November 27, voters will head to the polls again to cast their ballot in the runoff election between Cindy Hyde-Smith and Mike Espy. A race once believed to be a lock for Republicans now proves competitive as Espy competes to be the first Black candidate elected statewide in the 140 years since Reconstruction.
Myrlie Evers-Williams, wife of the late civil rights icon Medgar Evers who was shot and killed while standing in his driveway in a lynching by a Klansman in 1963, emphasized the critical reality of the moment in a statement last week.
“We are at a crossroads, Mississippi,” Evers-Williams said. “Will we use our sacred right to vote and move forward, or let our souls be dragged back to the past?”
Nate Morris is the senior editor of the Black Wall Street Times. Nate was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area and moved to Tulsa in 2012 after graduating from Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. He received his Master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma in 2015. Nate is a Teach for America alumnus and has worked in schools throughout the Tulsa area. He is an advocate for educational equity as well as racial and social justice throughout Tulsa and the nation as a whole.