As a child, I was always kind of ashamed about being from Mississippi. The place has a terrible reputation. I grew up in Los Angeles, and even though I shuddered at the rumors, I still loved to go “home” for summer vacations.
My grandmother, Ollie Lee Canteberry, and my uncle Forrest Canteberry were very good at shielding me from most of the “madness” that went on there. For example, it wasn’t until weeks after I was back in L.A. that the world learned that 14-year-old Emmett Till — visiting from Chicago — had been kidnapped and murdered outside of Greenwood (Money), Miss., just 30 miles from my hometown, Indianola. The soil in that state is stained with the blood of thousands of martyrs.
I was 10 years old at the time, but even I knew that the open-casket funeral pictures meant a warning to all Black boys: “This could just as easily be you.” Mississippi is the state where the most lynchings took place in U.S. history.
Now, President Donald J. Trump is on his way there to campaign just before a Nov. 27 U.S. Senate special election. The Donald hopes to rally the extremist, White supremacist elements in the Magnolia State against Mike Espy — a Black former member of Congress whose opponent is a White woman named Cindy Hyde-Smith.
She’s not just any woman, she said recently, she would proudly attend a “public hanging” if invited by one of her supporters, and she praised the idea of making it “just a little more difficult” for “liberal folks in those other schools” to vote.
Hers are not veiled, dog-whistle appeals that are obvious only to those already attuned to her hate. No. Her comments are like a foghorn, blatant and ugly, and without apology. Despite it all, or maybe because of it all, Espy has new hope in the runoff election Nov. 27.
“I actually think [his chances] are pretty good. He’s made a lot of historic firsts in his career,” said Dr. Sade Turnipseed an associate professor of history at Mississippi Valley State University. “I just know that the momentum is real, and it’s felt throughout the community, and I truly do believe that enough people are outraged by that woman’s behavior that they will be shaming themselves to actually pull that lever in her favor … but again, we are dealing with Mississippi, and so Mississippi just breaks the mold of everything racist, that we think is progress from racism.”
Hyde-Smith was appointed by Mississippi’s Republican governor last spring to replace Sen. Thad Cochran, who retired because of poor health. That prompted a special election Nov. 6 and there’s a runoff because no candidate won more than 50 percent of that vote.
“She has that very staunch, racist community that will back her,” Turnipseed said. “They’re still fighting that ‘Lost Cause,’ and fighting is necessary and they want to continue with that movement. I’m still leaning towards fairness and goodness and hope and all that sort of stuff, and that enough people have awakened to the fact that this is a very dangerous game that these White supremacists play here, and [that] time’s up on that kind of thing.
“I think it really does need to end here, Mississippi being the last holdout on the war, the battle flag, the Confederate symbols of our state,” she said. “Being that it is the last holdout, we need to truly make that mark, to say, ‘Time’s up. It’s over.’ It’s not White candidates, it’s White supremacist candidates. Those candidates who are still fighting that confederate cause. They’re very clear. They’re very honest about who they are, and what their cause is and what they’re fighting for.
“Yes, I wholeheartedly agree they’re on a mission to take us back to the days of slavery,” Turnipseed said. “I think Mississippi showed the rest of the world how to do that, how to keep people of color in their place.”
Though the “Mississippi Math” dictates that with 30 percent of the White vote, Espy will win. In the General Election on Nov. 6, Hyde-Smith narrowly led a crowded field with 41.5 percent, while Espy came in second with 40.6 percent, and another staunchly conservative White candidate won nearly 17 percent of the vote. Blacks comprise 38 percent of the eligible voters.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), campaigned to make Espy the first Black senator from Mississippi since Blanche Bruce was elected during Reconstruction.
“Yes, there are race issues in Mississippi, can’t sweep those under the rug,” Mr. Espy reportedly said during a recent campaign appearance. “But I don’t want to dwell on that. I want to be the senator of everyone, irrespective of race, irrespective of gender, irrespective of party, irrespective of religion. I want to be the vehicle of progress in Mississippi.”