Interim Superintendent Ousted for Acknowledging Mississippi’s History of Racism
Mississippi’s white-led Senate voted last week against confirming veteran educator Robert P. Taylor as Mississippi superintendent of education, and we aren’t surprised.
Senators opposing Taylor’s nomination claim they didn’t want him hired because he’s from out of state, even though he’s a native of Laurel with a degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. His predecessor, Carey Wright, had never been a Mississippi native.
Others, like Sen. Daniel Sparks, R-Belmont, claimed Taylor’s performance with earlier jobs was meager, but that’s not a good argument either. North Carolina School Report Cards showed eight of the district’s 15 schools earned “C” letter grades, six earned “D”s and one school received an “F,” while Taylor worked there in 2019. Sparks raised concerns on the Senate floor that the school district Taylor led in North Carolina did not significantly improve under Taylor’s nearly 10-year tenure, but that can be argued as well. Taylor served the district between 2011 and 2019, and for the years data is available, the Bladen County School District saw a steady drop in D-rated schools before the year 2019. After that, the pandemic dropped a bomb on everything, and school accountability collapsed along with attendance.
But some senators said the quiet part out loud, complaining about Taylor’s work at a Black-focused USM publication called The Unheard Word. Taylor described the publication as allowing Black students “to have an opposition voice that could not be silenced” at the university. The loudest objections from his detractors was that Taylor dared to claim in 2020 that Mississippi was, at one time, “the most racist state in the Union.”
Taylor’s quote specifically says: “The Unheard Word, in my opinion, recognized that the University of Southern Mississippi was in the most racist state in the Union. And that while historical focus has always been on the University of Mississippi, Southern Miss had a past that was tainted as well.”
Where’s the Lie
Mississippi’s racism is more than weak opinion, however. It was nothing less than state-sanctioned murder, beginning with the 1875 Clinton massacre, which kicked nearly 160 Black legislators out of the Mississippi Legislature and killed U.S. democracy. White Mississippi thugs hunted down and murdered roughly 50 Black men and women that same week, and then continued that murder for more than 100 years until the election of Robert George Clark Jr., the first Black state legislator since Reconstruction. And when Clark occupied his historic seat, few white Mississippi politicians would even sit near him. This wasn’t ancient history. This was 1968.
And some things haven’t changed since. Even today, Black Girl Times reports there are only two House committees, out of more than 40 with Black chairs. When House Speaker Phillip Gunn says he doesn’t put Democrats over committees, what he means is “Black people,” who almost all vote Democrat. With Black legislators erased from the bill-making process and extreme gerrymandering watering down the state’s Black vote, Mississippi is nearly as racist and undemocratic as it was in 1963.
But Senators like Melanie Sojourner, who opposed Taylor’s nomination, say they don’t want Taylor talking about all that racism and “woke” stuff in schools.
She wrote in a Facebook post: “Conservatives finally get a victory over Lt Gov Hosemann who has been pushing forward the nomination of Democrat Robert Taylor for State Superintendent of Education! This afternoon the Senate has voted 31-20 to block the confirmation. The last thing we need in a conservative state like ours is a Democrat superintendent who supports “woke” culture, teaching of CRT, expansive vaccine mandates and erasing of history.”
“Woke” is the catchphrase white conservatives like Sojourner use to demonize the inclusion of racism in Mississippi and U.S. history classes, despite the fact that racists have been filling U.S. and Mississippi history with as much racism as they can for more than 200 years. Including the context of racism and how it impacts our nation today makes the teaching of history “divisive,” say white politicians.
Reeves, Sojourner and most Republicans also campaign against the teaching of Critical Race Theory, a framework of learning centered on the idea that racial inequality “is woven into the legal and economic fabric of every aspect of American life.” Republicans in Mississippi even voted last year to pass a bill “prohibiting” the teaching of Critical Race Theory, as a sop to their anti-woke voters. Senate Bill 2113 pretends to thwart CRT by prohibiting instructors from teaching that “any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior, or that individuals should be adversely treated based on such characteristics.” The goofy vagueness of SB2113 probably explains why most of CRT’s staunchest opponents can’t actually define the thing on Facebook, or prove that the academic theory is even being taught in Mississippi K-12 schools, or most schools, for that matter.
But what people like Sojourner really want in ousting folks like Taylor is silence, because people like Sojourner don’t want Mississippi children knowing how awful white Mississippians have been for most of their history.
Remember the death of Reconstruction about seven paragraphs ago? That was a time of horrible violence, when Black politicians were lynched and murdered for daring to get themselves elected in an alleged democracy. The Wisconsin State Journal has one such account involving Rep. James A. P