Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith sparked fierce backlash over the weekend after cracking a joke that evoked the South’s ugly history of lynchings.
Hyde-Smith, who faces Democrat Mike Espy in a Nov. 27 runoff, made the crass comment while campaigning with a cattle rancher in Tupelo, Miss., on Nov. 2, according to journalist and blogger Lamar White Jr.
“If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row,” Hyde-Smith (R-Miss) is heard saying in a video posted to Twitter by White on Sunday morning.
Hyde-Smith and Espy, who would become the first Black senator to represent the state since the Reconstruction Era, were the two-highest vote-getters in a four-person special election last Tuesday, the Intelligencer reported. Neither candidate was able to win more than 50 percent of the vote, however, triggering a runoff.
In a statement, Espy called his opponent’s comment “reprehensible.”
“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.”
The Republican senator’s comment also drew the ire of the NAACP, which noted the history of deep-seated racism and lynchings in Mississippi. Data from the nation’s oldest civil rights organization showed that nearly an eighth of the 4,743 lynchings from 1882 until 1968 that occurred in the U.S. happened in Mississippi.
A report by the Jackson Free Press also revealed that the Magnolia State had the highest number of lynchings of African-Americans of any state in the U.S. between 1877 and 1950, noting how they were often done “in front of crowds of joyous whites who even mailed post card with lynching photographs to friends and family.”
“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. “Any politician seeking to serve as a national voice of the people of Mississippi should know better.”
Hyde-Smith brushed aside the criticism, however, saying her remark was simply an “exaggerated expression of regard.”
“In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement,” the senator said in her own statement on Sunday. “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.”
Not everyone was convinced and argued that Hyde-Smith, who’s been backed by the likes of President Donald Trump, knew exactly what she was doing when she made the remark.
“To speak of ‘public hangings’ in Mississippi is to evoke a long and brutal history of racial terror,” City University of New York historian Angus Johnson wrote in a Twitter thread on Sunday. “To joke about it is to utter an obscenity; whatever her intention, Hyde-Smith’s joke amounts to this: ‘We are not the kind of people who are hanged. We are the kind of people who do the hanging.’ ”
Activist Zellie Imani wrote, “US Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith from Mississippi telling a a group of white people, that if Colin Hutchinson invited her to a public hanging, she’d be in the front row. Sickening.”
Watch more in the clip below.
"If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row"- Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith says in Tupelo, MS after Colin Hutchinson, cattle rancher, praises her.
Hyde-Smith is in a runoff on Nov 27th against Mike Espy. pic.twitter.com/0a9jOEjokr
— Lamar White, Jr. (@LamarWhiteJr) November 11, 2018