After Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith’s second racist comment in a very short period of time, I suggested the Republican incumbent in this very Republican state would be favored to win the November 27 special election runoff against Democrat (and African-American) Mike Espy “unless she goes for the trifecta with another borderline-racist ‘joke.’” She didn’t exactly do that (yet, anyway), but instead Politico found and published a 2014 photo that Hyde-Smith posted on Facebook showing her proudly sporting a Confederate Army hat during a visit to the Jefferson Davis Home and (ouch!) Presidential Library in Biloxi.
“This is a must see,” gushed Hyde-Smith, who was then the State Agriculture Commissioner. “Currently on display are artifacts connected to the daily life of the Confederate Soldier including weapons. Mississippi history at its best!”
That’s probably not what all Mississippians think — certainly not the African-Americans the Confederates fought to keep enslaved (and who represented a majority of the state’s population), under Davis’ leadership. Mississippi’s unsavory reputation for well over a 100 years after the end of the Civil War, from the Klan terrorism against Reconstruction to the Klan terrorism against the civil rights movement, should certainly have suggested to any statewide elected official in the twenty-first century to keep Davis and rebel garb at a considerable distance.
But it’s unclear whether Hyde-Smith will suffer much for this sign of nostalgic joy in the oppression towards so many of her fellow citizens. Even as Confederate emblems have slowly but surely disappeared from state flags in most of the South, Mississippi’s still sports a very prominent Confederate Battle Flag; a 2001 referendum to replace it was defeated by a 64/36 margin. And her chief national political ally, President Trump, is of course on record as empathizing with the continued display of Confederate symbols as a legitimate defense of southern “heritage.”
Indeed, this special election may provide an interesting test of exactly how much borderline-racism Mississippi Republicans can tolerate without risking another generation of being generally regarded by African-Americans as the true heirs of Jefferson Davis and his ideological descendants. And we’ll also find out how much more deeply Cindy Hyde-Smith can dig herself into the mud of Mississippi’s white supremacist history — and whether she bothers to dig herself out.