Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith once promoted a measure that praised a Confederate soldier’s effort to “defend his homeland” and pushed a revisionist view of the Civil War.
Hyde-Smith, a Republican, faces Mike Espy, a Democratic former congressman and agriculture secretary, in Tuesday’s runoff in Mississippi – the final Senate race to be decided in 2018. The measure, which was unearthed by CNN’s KFile during a review of Hyde-Smith’s legislative history, is the latest in a series of issues that have surfaced during her campaign, many of which have evoked Mississippi’s dark history of racism and slavery.
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.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans, according to the group’s website, is a “historical, patriotic, and non-political organization dedicated to insuring that a true history of the 1861-1865 period is preserved.” The group says on its website that “The preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South’s decision to fight the Second American Revolution.”
The concurrent resolution was approved by Mississippi’s House and Senate. Hyde-Smith served as a state senator from 2000 to 2012. She was a Democrat before switching parties in 2010, citing her conservative beliefs. Hyde-Smith’s campaign did not respond Saturday to a request for comment on the resolution.
News of the 2007 measure comes amid increased scrutiny of Hyde-Smith’s past after a series of recordings surfaced that featured her making comments about attending a “public hanging” and suppressing the votes of students in the state.
Hyde-Smith was recorded telling supporters in Tupelo earlier this month that she’d be “on the front row” if one of her supporters there “invited me to a public hanging” – a phrase her campaign called an “exaggerated expression of regard.” The same progressive blogger who published the video later published one in which she told a small group at Mississippi State University that suppressing the votes of students at other colleges was “a great thing.” Her campaign said it was a joke.
On Friday, the Jackson Free Press reported that Hyde-Smith attended a private high school that was founded in 1970 so that white parents could avoid attempts to integrate schools by sending their children to schools without black students. Hyde-Smith’s daughter later attended a similar private school established around the same time, according to the Free Press.
Hyde-Smith campaign spokeswoman Melissa Scallan, when asked to comment on the report, attacked the “liberal media,” saying in a statement, “They have stooped to a new low, attacking her entire family and trying to destroy her personally instead of focusing on the clear differences on the issues between Cindy Hyde-Smith and her far-left opponent.”
The 2007 resolution wasn’t the only legislation Hyde-Smith backed that would elevate Mississippi’s Confederate history. The Washington Post reported that in 2001, Hyde-Smith introduced a bill as a state senator to rename a stretch of highway to what it had been called in the 1930s: the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, after the president of the Confederacy.
And in photos posted to her Facebook account in 2014, Hyde-Smith was pictured posing with Confederate artifacts during a visit to Beauvoir, the home and library of Davis. The caption on the post read, “Mississippi history at its best!”
Mississippi still displays the Confederate battle flag within its state flag. But more critical attention has been paid toward Confederate monuments, symbols and icons in recent years, particularly after the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting and white supremacists’ march in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Hyde-Smith and Espy debated Tuesday night. But otherwise, Hyde-Smith’s campaign has kept her mostly out of public eye and away from the press – eschewing the usual event-after-event sprint to Election Day – as controversy over racially insensitive remarks she’d made earlier this month swirled.
Several companies that donated to Hyde-Smith’s campaign, including Walmart, have publicly withdrawn their support for the senator over the “public hanging” comment.
In her debate with Espy, Hyde-Smith said she would “certainly apologize” to anyone who was offended by her remark about attending a “public hanging.” But she quickly pivoted into attack mode.
“I also recognize that this comment was twisted and it was turned into a weapon to be used against me,” she said.