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This article was written by Rev. CJ Rhodes who serves as the pastor of Mt. Helm Baptist Church in Jackson, MS. It has been published here with permission.

Note: The views here are solely of the individual author and do not necessarily represent the perspective of The Witness.


“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” 

Ida B. Wells Barnett

The words stung on Sunday, November 11. Cindy Hyde-Smith, our U.S. Senator appointed by Governor Phil Bryant to fulfill Thad Cochran’s unfulfilled term, appeared in a viral video saying that she would be on the front row of a public hanging if invited by the avid supporter seen with her in the video. These remarks at a campaign stop were made November 2 but apparently only made their social media rounds nine days later.

A “public hanging” solicited the worst images of black men and women swinging like strange fruit from sycamore trees while dozens or hundreds of white, mostly Christian, men and women congregated to point and smile with glee. The Senator is presently in a run-off election with Mike Espy, a black Mississippian, and that fact adds greater ire.

As more than a million persons viewed the video nationwide on Veterans Day, Mississippians and other Americans decried the language. Subsequently, Senator Hyde-Smith showed no remorse, no repentance, no understanding of or appreciation for the history of lynching in the state she now serves in the U.S. Congress. In her formal statement issued late Sunday evening, she stated, “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.” What is truly ridiculous is her inability to see how her words can be logically associated with lynching and her flippant dismissal suggests insensitive misanthropy.

A Tragic History

According to the NAACP, “Mississippi had the highest lynchings from 1882-1968 with 581.” Mississippi’s most infamous lynching occurred in Money, Mississippi in 1955 when 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched for allegedly offending Carolyn Bryant, a white woman. Hyde-Smith grew up in Brookhaven, Lincoln County, where the last reported public lynching was 1928. There are many African Americans alive today who themselves or whose parents experienced the terror of the KKK or ordinary white mobs terrorizing communities throughout the state. As recent as 2018, there have been alleged lynchings of young, black men.

It should not be missed by Hyde-Smith, a white Southern woman, that many lynchings occurred due to white men “protecting” the purity of white women. Many black men were killed for minor misdemeanors, if they committed a crime at all, in order to sustain the order of white supremacy, of which white women were benefactors. It is beyond reason that Hyde-Smith is oblivious to this. In a similar incident, Trent Lott, our former Mississippi U.S. Senator, was forced to resign in 2002 due to comments wherein he suggested America would be a better place had Strom Thurmond, a rabid segregationist, won the presidency in 1948.

Furthermore, the response from MS Governor Phil Bryant has been insulting. The state’s highest elected official swiftly denounced State Senator Chris McDaniel’s racial comments that he made regarding blacks’ dependence upon government “handouts.” However, Bryant came to Hyde-Smith’s defense by calling this a controversy political spin.

A New Day

This year Mission Mississippi, a Christian organization founded to foster racial reconciliation, celebrates 25 years of ministry. Its present focus is “to see Christians living out the grace of the gospel unhindered by racism, racial strife, racial prejudice, racial hatred, and racial division throughout Mississippi and the world.” Here’s a time for Governor Bryant, the Mississippi GOP, and others throughout our state to do just that. Mississippi cannot heal our ugly racist past or present if we continue to belittle the real pain and harm it has caused.

While Hyde-Smith’s comments certainly warrant a serious discussion about her resignation, that is unlikely to happen and ultimately only form part of a more comprehensive response.

What is most important now is for Mississippians of good will to mobilize and vote in record numbers Tuesday, November 27. I encourage you to vote for Mike Espy for U.S. Senate, sending a resounding message to the nation that Mississippi will not be held back in the midnight of our terrible and terrorizing past. By electing Espy, it will be the first time an African American would be elected to the U.S. Senate (our two black Reconstruction era Senators were appointed by the State Legislature).

There are those around the nation and in our state who maintain it is ridiculous to believe a black person can be elected to the Senate. Let’s show ourselves and the watching world that a new day is dawning in Mississippi, a day that belongs to all of us and not just the privileged few.

 

The Witness is a non-profit, faith-based media organization that engages issues of religion, race, justice, and culture from a biblical perspective. The Witness consciously draws on the expansive black church tradition to address matters of personal faith while also speaking to issues of public righteousness through blog posts, feature-length articles, podcasts, and live reporting.

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