The crazy and prolonged 2018 midterm elections continue tomorrow with the most high-profile undecided race left in the nation, a Senate runoff election in Mississippi between incumbent Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democratic challenger Mike Espy. Donald Trump is heading to the state to give rallies in favor of Hyde-Smith, who has been wrestling with a long series of racially-charged comments and incidents, from the comment that she would be “in the front row” of a “public hanging’ if invited by a supporter to “joking” that it would be a “great idea” to make it harder for liberals in the state to vote (because that has no racist undertones at all – oh sarcasm font, where are you?) to her past praise for the Confederacy (and this isn’t even all of it).
Given the turbulent and often shameful history of race relations in Mississippi and the rest of the American South, many of Hyde-Smith’s critics have accused her of racial insensitivity if not outright racism (spoiler alert: I’m going for “racism”), while the Senator and her supporters claim that her words are being twisted and that no racial animosity or prejudice exists in her comments or actions. For example, they argue that the public hanging comment was a simple colloquialism. *Sigh.*
From 1882-1968, the period between the end of Reconstruction and the culmination of the Civil Rights Movement, 581 people were lynched in Mississippi, more than in any other state in the nation. This number does not include the 639 black men who were executed in Mississippi between 1818 and 1964, 80% of all executions in the state. Most of these executions were conducted by hanging; in 1940 the state switched to first a portable electric chair (an impressive eagerness to kill black men people and, in 1955, a gas chamber (yes, ten years after WWII ended, Mississippi decided that building a gas chamber was a perfectly just and reasonable thing to do).
Just to review, that’s hundreds of black men who were subjected to public hangings in Mississippi. And all THAT is not counting the untold thousands and thousands who were murdered or had their lives shortened by slavery during the pre-Civil War era. Oh, and about that war. Mississippi the state and Hyde-Smith the candidate have also held on tightly to the state’s history as a member of the Confederacy, a history intimately tied to slavery. The Confederate battle flag remains part of the Mississippi state flag, as it once did in other southern states. Senator Hyde-Smith has received criticism in recent days for a visit to the house of Jefferson Davis, the Mississippi Senator turned President of the Confederacy (future aspirations, Senator Hyde-Smith?). During the visit, “Strange Fruit Cindy”, as I just heard her labeled on MSNBC, called the displays there “Mississippi history at its best.”
Confederate apologists paint the picture that the Civil War (or the War Between the States, or the War of Northern Aggression, because there’s apparently nothing that rebranding can’t fix) was about other things: the legal issue of states’ rights, economic differences between the North and the South, rejection of a new political party. The response to these attempts at reframing the Civil War is not that to argue that these things, even if important, were secondary to the issue of slavery; the response is that things were ALL aspects of the system of slavery itself.
The Confederacy was about maintaining complete white ownership of black people and becoming traitors to the United States in order to keep owning black people. But, as young Kunta Kinte himself would say, you don’t have to take my word for it: Let’s look at what Mississippi itself said in its public declaration when it seceded. To be fair to Mississippi, its secession statement doesn’t get to slavery until the second sentence, where it states: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world.” I’m going to walk out on a limb (but not in Mississippi, lest Senator Hyde-Smith and her supporters get noose-happy again) and conclude that Mississippi joined the Confederacy in order to keep its slaves.
Now, if Hyde-Smith and her supporters want to celebrate their forefathers and foremothers for killing American troops in order to maintain their ability to rape, beat, exploit and murder black people, well that’s there right. Apparently the 100% pro-life rating she brags about on her website doesn’t factor in the lives of black people who have been murdered by the state, angry mobs or slave-owners throughout Mississippi’s history, or the lives of Union troops fighting to put down rebellion within the country. Re-electing Cindy Hyde-Smith will not make America great again; it will help maintain a violent and racist worldview that made the country anything but great for the black people who lived and died under slavery, Jim Crow and a skewed criminal justice system. But hey, “public hanging” is just an expression, right?