Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, a white woman, made a joke about a 'public hanging' while running against Democrat Mike Espy, a black man.
The Trump-endorsed Republican Senate nominee in Mississippi casually — and callously — joked about a "public hanging," dredging up the state's long history of lynchings of black Americans.
"If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row," Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) said of a supporter.
Hyde-Smith, a white woman, is facing Democrat Mike Espy, a black man, in a Nov. 27 runoff for the state's U.S. Senate seat.
Espy called her comments "reprehensible," adding, "We need leaders, not dividers, and her words show that she lacks the understanding and judgment to represent the people of our state," according to the Washington Post.
Between 1877 and 1950, 654 lynchings were reported in Mississippi, "including two in Lee County, where Hyde-Smith's comments were made," according to the Jackson Free Press. The paper also noted that Mississippi had the highest number of recorded lynchings in the U.S., and lynchings were often public events "often in front of crowds of joyous whites."
Hyde-Smith's comments were caught on video and posted by journalist Lamar White Jr.
"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
Espy was far from the only person incensed by such a hurtful remark.
"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 in a statement Sunday, according to the Post. "Any politician seeking to serve as a national voice of the people of Mississippi should know better."
Hyde-Smith attempted a feeble defense, saying, "In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement. In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard." She claims any attempt to paint her comment about public hangings in a negative light is "ridiculous."
In a longer comment about Hyde-Smith's remarks, Espy noted how harmful they are to the entire state of Mississippi.
Her comments "are harmful because they tend to reinforce the stereotypes that have held back our state for so long and that have cost us jobs and harmed our economy," Espy said. "I mean this is 2018. We are going here in Mississippi into the third decade of the 21st century and we just should not have this," he added.
Both Hyde-Smith and Espy received 41 percent of the vote on Nov. 6, but state law requires a nominee to receive more than 50 percent to win, so the two will face off again later this month.
Trump-backed candidates in the deep south seem to court controversy with self-inflicted political wounds.
Last year, Republicans saw Alabama vote for Democrat Doug Jones after GOP nominee Roy Moore faced multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, including molesting an underage girl.
Will Mississippi see a similar fate as Alabama? Voters will make their choice on Nov. 27.