On Tuesday, the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus issued a statement saying Rep. Karl Oliver's continued presence in the Legislature would impede efforts for lawmakers to work across lines of race and party.
Photo by Imani Khayyam.
When Rep. Karl Oliver, R-Winona, said Louisiana leaders "should be LYNCHED!" for removing Confederate statues, he was just carrying on a disturbing tradition. Sure, House Speaker Philip Gunn condemned his words and stripped him of a vice-chairmanship. The Mississippi GOP issued a statement distancing themselves from him.
The Legislative Black Caucus, though, called on Oliver to resign. We agree. Oliver should resign with all deliberate speed because his call for race violence was atrocious, but the arbitrary line he crossed needs to be re-drawn, too. The Black Caucus also called on colleagues to change the state flag, removing Confederate symbols from public spaces in totality—not just when they lead to a call for lynching.
"An apology is just mere protocol; it is not enough. If these comments are truly not the mindset of the body, change the flag and demand the resignation of Karl Oliver," the Black Caucus said.
This didn't start with Oliver. His Facebook post is the culmination of the steady build-up of tolerance for racist and white-supremacist apologists and government symbols since 1969, when federal powers forced integration on the South, and Republican strategists like Haley Barbour embraced the "southern strategy" of waving "welfare mothers" and black "thugs" in front of scared white voters.
Oliver crossed an arbitrary line in the racist-apologist sand, while others got away with similar actions. Former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott and former Govs. Haley Barbour and Kirk Fordice were unscathed after bowing and speaking to the Council of Conservative Citizens, even after national media outlets exposed them. In 2009, Sen. Lydia Chassaniol, R-Winona, was the surprise speaker at the CofCC's 2009 convention held in Jackson. No one protested at the Capitol when the Senate Tourism chairwoman cited tourism as a reason to invite the racist group here. "I do not consider myself racist, have never before been accused of such, and believe that a person's membership in any organization is a private matter," said the woman who is still chairs Tourism.
Six years later, Dylann Roof credited the same CofCC in his manifesto of why he massacred nine people in a black church. Months later, Gov. Phil Bryant declared Confederate Heritage Month—with no one noticing if the JFP hadn't exposed it. Despite our story spurring national headlines, Bryant didn't apologize. Despite repeated calls to change the flag, even from religious leaders, the House instead debated forcing universities to fly the state flag or lose state funds this session. Both Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Bryant oppose the Legislature changing the state flag, thus pandering to white voters, like Oliver, who cling to Confederate ideology. Bryant proclaimed Confederate Heritage Month again this year, and only black lawmakers spoke out.
Leaders can feign disgust at Oliver's words, but their cozy relationship with racial rhetoric and symbols emboldened him and may lead to the violence he encouraged. It is time to stop this game now.