As Statues Fall, the Specter of the Noose Rises ~ NYT editorial

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More African-American men, women and children were hanged, burned and dismembered per capita in Mississippi between the Civil War and World War II than in any other Southern state. This bloody sacrifice to white supremacy sprang immediately to mind over the weekend when a white Mississippi state representative, Karl Oliver, railed in a Facebook post that elected officials in New Orleans deserved to be “lynched” for arranging to have four Confederate memorials removed from the city. Mr. Oliver’s grotesque remark reminds us yet again that the era of racial terror that spawned these memorials still casts a shadow over American life.

The Confederate monuments were erected in plazas throughout the South primarily during the height of Jim Crow rule in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when black Southerners were nonpersons, with no say in how such public spaces were used. Those who spoke out against the oppression often died in lynchings staged as public entertainment. African-American opposition to the memorials — and to the Confederate emblem on Mississippi’s state flag — has grown, naturally, since black citizens belatedly gained the power of the ballot box.

Mr. Oliver finally apologized on Monday. But citizens and elected officials were still appalled that such a comment would come from a lawmaker in Mississippi — the epicenter of racial terror during the lynching period. Mr. Oliver’s district includes the hamlet of Money, where Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy from Chicago, was kidnapped, mutilated and killed while visiting relatives in 1955.

That episode jump-started the civil rights movement and forced the country to finally confront the racial violence that had been a constant feature of African-American life in the Deep South. Perhaps Mr. Oliver’s viciousness can help Americans acknowledge how much of that poison is still with us.

Mississippi’s governor condemned Mr. Oliver’s statement, and the state’s House speaker stripped Mr. Oliver of a committee leadership position. The Legislative Black Caucus, however, is unwilling to let the matter go. It has called on Mr. Oliver to resign and has renewed its demand for the Legislature to finally dispatch the Confederate emblem from the state flag, which should have been done years ago.

As Representative Sonya Williams-Barns, the Black Caucus chairwoman, said this week, finally discarding that emblem would represent an important step toward breaking with Mississippi’s toxic past.

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