The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Someone hung nooses at the Mississippi Capitol on eve of racially charged U.S. Senate runoff

A noose hangs on a tree on the state Capitol grounds in Jackson, Miss., on Nov. 26. (WLBT-TV/AP) (AP)

Authorities removed two nooses and six hate signs found on the grounds of the Mississippi State Capitol on the eve of a U.S. Senate runoff election featuring a black Democrat — and a white incumbent criticized for pro-Confederacy stances and remarks about a “public hanging.”

State Capitol police took down the nooses and the signs and said they are investigating, according to Jackson, Miss., NBC affiliate WLBT. Authorities have not released images of the signs or surveillance video, which they are reviewing to determine who is responsible. They also haven’t released details about any suspect.

The signs appeared on the same day that President Trump was scheduled to campaign in the Magnolia State for Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith. She was appointed to the Senate in March to fill the seat of an ailing Thad Cochran and was widely expected to win the race to fill the remaining two years of the term in the Republican-leaning state.

Voters will cast ballots on Tuesday for the last U.S. Senate seat still up for grabs in this election cycle. If Hyde-Smith wins, Republicans would hold 53 seats in the 100-member Senate.

As the national spotlight pivoted to Mississippi, Hyde-Smith was criticized for a controversial joke in early November about a “public hanging” in a state with a tragic history of lynching black people.

A video posted to Twitter by journalist and blogger Lamar White Jr. showed Hyde-Smith expressing affection for a supporter at a campaign stop: “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”

Hyde-Smith defended the statement as an “exaggerated expression of regard,” then offered a limited apology during a debate with Mike Espy, her Democratic opponent.

And, as The Washington Post’s Matt Viser reported, Hyde-Smith has embraced Confederate history at several times in her career.

In 2014, she donned a Confederate hat, posed with a rifle and told people on her Facebook page that Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s homestead in Biloxi is a “must see,” Viser wrote. In a parade Hyde-Smith oversaw as state agriculture commissioner, she awarded the best community float prize to a Confederate heritage group called Dixie Alliance.

Campaign officials for Hyde-Smith and Espy did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The 2018 midterms saw an influx of women and minority candidates, and races for major political offices in the South that featured black candidates have been riddled with similar not-so-subtle racist moments.

Stacey Abrams, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, was the subject of a racist robo-call that featured a person pretending to be the billionaire media titan Oprah Winfrey, who had campaigned and knocked on doors for Abrams.

The robo-call labeled Abrams “a poor man’s Aunt Jemima,” a reference to the black character featured on the front of a popular pancake mix, an image that has itself been derided as a racist symbol.

And Republican Ron DeSantis, who defeated Andrew Gillum, the man who sought to be Florida’s first black governor, told voters shortly after the primary that they couldn’t afford to “monkey this up.” Later, Gillum was the subject of a racist robo-call.

“Well, hello there,” the call begins, as the sounds of drums and monkeys can be heard in the background, according to the New York Times. “I is Andrew Gillum.”

“We Negroes ... done made mud huts while white folk waste a bunch of time making their home out of wood an' stone.”

Both Gillum and Abrams lost their races.

And now the race in Mississippi — already increasingly seen as a battle between Old South Confederate pride and New South principles of racial harmony — has an 11th-hour infusion of a potent racial symbol.

According to the NAACP, between 1882 and 1968, Mississippi had 581 lynchings, the highest number of any state.

Read more:

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