Will Mississippi Send an Open Confederate Back To Washington?

As much as the Republican Party has shown itself to be intensely loyal to Donald Trump–and more than happy to carry forward the banner of hateful ideologies–there are apparently some lines that even they will not cross. We saw one of those lines in Alabama: Roy Moore’s history of fundamentalist radicalism combined with multiple allegations of sexual misconduct with children was too much even for many Republican voters.

We are about to see whether a similar situation applies in Mississippi, a la whether being an unreconstructed Confederate sympathizer is a dealbreaker for the GOP. Republicans should be waltzing to a fairly easy victory in the Magnolia state’s Senate runoff, but a series of appalling news stories seem to be leaping out of the woodwork about Republican candidate Cindy Hyde-Smith.

First was her remark that if a certain supporter “invited her to a public hanging, she would be on front row.” Mississippi, of course, hasn’t had a state-sanctioned public execution by hanging since the early 20th century. The last recorded lynching, on the other hand, was in 1968. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what she was really referencing, which is why corporate donors have been fleeing her campaign.

But there’s more. She also graduated high school at a segregation academy, a school expressly picked by white parents who refused to cooperate with desegregation. And then she enrolled her own daughter in another so-called segregation academy:

A photograph from the 1975 edition of the Lawrence County Academy yearbook, published Friday by the Jackson Free Press, appears to show Hyde-Smith among a group of cheerleaders — including a mascot holding a Confederate flag who appears to be wearing a costume imitating a Confederate general’s uniform. A sophomore girl in the picture is identified in the caption as Cindy Hyde.

Following the Supreme Court’s 1969 mandate that America’s public schools must immediately be desegregated, Lawrence County Academy in Monticello, Mississippi, was one of many high schools established in the South on behalf of white parents who did not want their children to be educated alongside black students.

Lawrence County Academy opened one year after the Supreme Court’s order, in 1970, the Free Press reported. Hyde-Smith graduated in 1977, meaning she would have been enrolled elsewhere at the time of the academy’s founding, according to the Free Press.

Hyde-Smith would go on to enroll her daughter at Brookhaven Academy, another Mississippi segregation school founded in 1970, the Free Press reported.

In 2014, she was photographed wearing confederate hats and holding confederate guns at the home of Jefferson Davis. She also once co-sponsored of a resolution to honor a Confederate soldier’s fight to “defend his homeland” in the “War Between the States.”

As a state senator in 2007, Hyde-Smith cosponsored a resolution that honored then-92-year-old Effie Lucille Nicholson Pharr, calling her “the last known living ‘Real Daughter’ of the Confederacy living in Mississippi.” Pharr’s father had been a Confederate soldier in Robert E. Lee’s army in the Civil War.

The resolution refers to the Civil War as “The War Between the States.” It says her father “fought to defend his homeland and contributed to the rebuilding of the country.” It says that with “great pride,” Mississippi lawmakers “join the Sons of Confederate Veterans” to honor Pharr.

The measure “rests on an odd combination of perpetuating both the Confederate legacy and the idea that this was not really in conflict with being a good citizen of the nation,” said Nina Silber, the president of the Society of Civil War Historians and a Boston University history professor.

“I also think it’s curious that this resolution—which ostensibly is about honoring the ‘daughter’—really seems to be an excuse to glorify the Confederate cause,” Silber said.

Cumulatively, these stories have begun to earn her the moniker “Confederate Cindy.”

Will Mississippi voters be OK with all of that? Time will tell. Certainly, Democrats will mostly abhor her. But will enough Republicans be disgusted to the point in which they withhold their support? Indications are that the Republican Party seems to think they have a problem.

Yes, it’s Mississippi. But even Republicans sometimes have their limits.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.