MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - More backlash for Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith after she joked about attending a “public hanging” during a campaign stop.
The president of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis says that term has no place in today’s vernacular.
Terri Freeman says there's nothing funny about joking about a public hanging, especially when you're running for office in a state that has the largest percentage of African-Americans in the country, and a state that has the largest recorded number of lynchings.
"It was hurtful to the people of Mississippi," said Freeman, "and to the people of the nation."
Freeman talked with WMC Action News 5 Monday evening, one day after Hyde-Smith's comment went viral. She said words have meaning, particularly if you're running for elected office.
"When you are going to represent an entire state," said Freeman, "then you need to represent the entire state, and you have to be careful about what you say."
Hyde-Smith faces a runoff election November 27 with former U.S. Representative Mike Espy, who is African American. He called her comment, “reprehensible.”
The incumbent senator made the remark on November 2 during a campaign stop. It was recorded, but not released until Sunday.
"If he invited me to a public hanging," she's heard saying to a supporter in the video, "I'd be on the front row."
Backlash for using the term "public hanging" was instantaneous.
Hyde-Smith quickly released a statement:
Terri Freeman said there is nothing positive about a U.S. senator, or anyone else for that matter, talking about going to a public hanging.
"Mississippi had the highest rate of lynchings in the South," said Freeman. "It was an opportunity for people to celebrate terrorism, public terrorism and torture. It was a community affair. People came out, brought lunches and brought children to watch somebody be killed."
According to the NAACP, there were 581 lynchings in Mississippi from 1882 to 1968.
Today, 37 percent of the population is African-American.
"She meant no harm or offense by that statement," Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant said Monday coming to Hyde-Smith's defense. "There was nothing in her heart of ill will."
Bryant and Hyde-Smith were at a pro-life function when he made his remarks to the media. But when reporters asked follow-up questions about the controversy, Hyde-Smith referred them to her earlier written statement, refusing to say anything else before both walked out of the news conference.
“Own up to it,” said Freeman. “People make mistakes. She should say she made a mistake and said something she shouldn’t have. It was inappropriate and it was hurtful. Nobody loses when you fess up to it. Everybody loses when you don’t.”