Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., who represents the state with the highest number of lynchings during the Jim Crow era, said earlier this month that she would be more than happy to attend a “public hanging” if a prominent supporter invited her.
Hyde-Smith made the remark at a campaign stop on Nov. 2 in Tupelo, less than 100 miles from the site of one of the nation’s most notorious lynchings — the murder of Emmett Till on Aug. 28, 1955, in the town of Money.
“If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row,” Hyde-Smith said of Colin Hutchinson, a cattle rancher supporting her campaign.
The comment was first reported by Lamar White Jr., who runs the progressive Louisiana politics blog The Bayou Brief.
Hyde-Smith was appointed to the Senate in April to replace Sen. Thad Cochran and will face former Rep. Mike Espy, a Democrat, in a runoff election to finish Cochran’s term on Nov. 27.
On Sunday, Hyde-Smith called criticism of the remark “ridiculous” and refused to apologize, even as it inserted racial tension into the runoff. (Espy, her runoff opponent, is black and was the first African-American to represent Mississippi in Congress since Reconstruction when he took office in 1987.)
“In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement,” Hyde-Smith said in a statement. “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.”
At a news conference with Gov. Phil Bryant on Monday, Hyde-Smith would not answer questions about the remark, only saying she stood by the statement.
Lynching is part of Mississippi’s violent, racist past, which lives on in the debate over the state flag, which still incorporates the Confederate emblem.
Between 1880 and 1940, 614 African-Americans were lynched in Mississippi, more than any other Southern state, according to a 2015 report from the Equal Justice Initiative. The rate of 0.58 lynchings per 100,000 residents was the highest in the South.
Earlier this year, Hyde-Smith defended the use of the Confederate flag, saying she “believes residents decided on this issue when they voted in favor of the current state flag” in 2001, according to the Enterprise-Journal.