JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith’s joke about public hangings is not going over as funny with many Mississippians.
Not only was hanging once the legal means of execution, the state has a long history of racially motivated lynchings.
At one time, gallows were in operation on the top floor of the Hinds County Courthouse.
But it’s the state’s history of unlawful hangings or lynchings that is one of the reasons so many people have been offended by the senator’s comments.
Until the 1940′s, hanging, or the gallows, was the method of execution in Mississippi. State lawmakers then replaced it with the electric chair.
Charlene Thompson, director the Smith Robertson Museum, says that lynching’s were even before that, which went beyond the scope of the law.
“Lynching started in the 1700’s,” she said.
Due to the dark history of lynching across the south, many people find Senator Cindy Hyde Smith's comments to be racially insensitive.
“When people are being lynched, they are being lynched for any given reason,” Thompson added.
Thompson points out that lynching was a scare tactic to terrorize African Americans.
“We also have to remember that in many of these public lynchings, people would dress up. Not necessarily the person who is being lynched, but the crowd itself, and they would sell refreshments," said Thompson. “It was like a big outing.”
According to the NAACP, the from 1882-1968, there were 581 lynchings in Mississippi -- the highest number of any state.