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Analysis: Rep’s ‘lynch’ remark part of broad cultural battle

EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS

Mississippi state Rep. Karl Oliver drew bipartisan condemnation with a recent Facebook post saying Louisiana leaders should be “LYNCHED” — in all caps — for removing Confederate monuments. But, social media being what it is, the white Republican from Winona was also praised by people who said he stood courageously against political correctness.

Oliver’s post was made May 20, after New Orleans pulled down three Confederate monuments and one monument to white supremacy. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a speech May 19 that the monuments represented “the cult of the Lost Cause,” which sought to “rewrite history, to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.”

“To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our prominent places in honor is an inaccuracy recitation of our full past, it is an affront to our present and it is a bad prescription for our future,” said Landrieu, the white Democratic mayor of a culturally diverse, majority-black city.

REP. KARL OLIVER

It’s worth noting that Oliver’s legislative district in the Mississippi Delta includes the tiny community of Money, where black teenager Emmett Till was kidnapped and lynched in 1955.

In his May 20 Facebook post, Oliver wrote: “The destruction of these monuments, erected in the loving memory of our family and fellow Southern Americans, is both heinous and horrific. If the, and I use this term extremely loosely, ‘leadership’ of Louisiana wishes to, in a Nazi-ish fashion, burn books or destroy historical monuments of OUR HISTORY, they should be LYNCHED!”

The freshman lawmaker removed his post after it had been online more than a day and a half, and he issued a public apology after a stern phone call from Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, who also revoked Oliver’s vice chairmanship of the Forestry Committee.

“In an effort to express my passion for preserving all historical monuments, I acknowledge the word ‘lynched’ was wrong,” Oliver said. “I am very sorry. It is in no way, ever, an appropriate term. I deeply regret that I chose this word, and I do not condone the actions I referenced, nor do I believe them in my heart.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi called for an investigation of Oliver. Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the New York-based NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, called Oliver’s post “shocking in its ignorance and abhorrent in its violence.”

The Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus and the Mississippi NAACP said Oliver should resign. Democratic Sen. Sollie Norwood of Jackson, who is a caucus member, questioned Oliver’s apology.

“I think it’s irresponsible for him to apologize for something that he meant,” Norwood said. “There is no place in public office for anyone who embraces that ideology and expresses such deeply demented thoughts.”

Rep. Angela Cockerham of Magnolia, who is African-American and one of only two Democratic committee chairmen in the Republican-majority House, said she was “deeply troubled” by Oliver’s post. She added: “As one who works across racial and party lines, it is my prayer that the healing process will continue in our state and that my House and Senate colleagues and I will work to build one Mississippi.”

The fight about Confederate symbols is far from over.

Mississippi is still divided over its state flag, the last in the nation with the Confederate battle emblem.

Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey last week signed a bill to protect longstanding monuments, including those honoring the Confederacy. It’s a safe bet that a similar bill could be filed in Mississippi next year — but if Oliver is the main sponsor, the bill could struggle to survive.

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» Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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