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. Patterson.
After failing to bravely ambush and kill him, race terrorists coaxed Patterson out of hiding and then hung him under a pecan tree. Before they killed him, Patterson, who was a schoolteacher, handed his “honorable” murderers $1,400 to give to his two sisters in Ohio for their school expenses.
“He then asked them to promise to send his money to these sisters,” according to the Wisconsin State Journal. “They gave the promise, and he placed the money in the hands of one of the leaders. He was then hanged to the limb of the tree.”
These “honorable gentlemen” then left his body to the buzzards for three days and let them eat his face and shoulders. “His sisters never saw a dollar of the money,” says the Journal. “Within a week one of the leaders of the crowd of young white gentlemen[!] engaged in this murder was riding in a new buggy behind a fine horse.”
The paper said it was “a matter of common notoriety that a large portion of Patterson’s money was invested in this ‘new rig.’”
An Inconvenient Truth
This is the reality that Sen. Sojourner and her ilk don’t want shared. The horrors of the last few centuries, conducted with absolute impunity by abhorrent vigilantes and racists, are not ancient history. It was grandma and grandpa who dumped milkshakes on the heads of Black kids who sat at the “white counter” in the 1960s. It was just last year a Mississippi grand jury declined to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham, the White woman who got 14-year-old Emmett Till lynched.
At this very minute, over in Texas, sits a neat little headstone marking the grave of acknowledged child-killer Perry Dean Ross who fired into a building and killed John Earl Reese in 1955. His buddies shot and injured two additional Black women. Ross confessed to holding the steering wheel with his left hand and firing “nine shots into the café.” But Ross died a free man with “Good Times” and “the Muppet Show” on television because an all-white Texas jury decided that poor ‘ol Ross just “wanted to scare somebody and keep the niggers and the whites from going to school together.”
His lawyer argued Ross, who’d had several beers, wasn’t actually trying to kill anybody when he fired into a fully occupied café, and he appealed to the jury to just “call it a bad day and let the boy go on in life.”
And they did, too. After 90 minutes of deliberation, they gave Ross a guilty verdict of murder “without malice,” with five years, suspended. Killer Ross was turned loose, like a rescued raccoon. FBI files list Perry Dean Ross as being from Panola County, Texas, and identifies January 8, 1976, as his date of death. A headstone with his name still sits peacefully in a Panola County cemetery, with a Jan. 8, 1976 death day.
Our point is none of these horrors are long-dead history. Terrible deeds endured for years and shaped America, and the kind of people who committed them were not Unabomber types. They were fathers, brothers, and sometimes mothers, and they don’t need people like Melanie Sojourner doing them the favor of burying their rotten behavior. Sure, Sojourner is probably just protecting herself when she argues filthy, rapey slaveowners were just “immigrants” themselves who “fled … tyrannical governments” and lost their lives in the Civil War to “remain free.” Her family still owns their old Mississippi plantation near Natchez, so she probably has a personal interest.
But the rest of us need to see where real evil comes from. We need to know that murderers and terrorists can be people who hug their kids, or own coffee mugs that say “World’s Greatest Dad.” Banning these heinous crimes and any discussion of them from U.S. and Mississippi history books in the name of “not being divisive” does white supremacy and evil a service for which they are not worthy, and it makes them more difficult to spot next time.
One final note: The guy replacing Taylor as interim superintendent, Mike Kent, is the same Madison County School principal who oversaw a Black woman being handcuffed in 2010 for daring to sneak her Black child into a wealthy, white suburban school. He also allegedly threatened to arrest her son, Jeremy Baugh, for trespassing at Ridgeland High School if the mother didn’t show up and provide a good photo op for the arrest, probably as a deterrent to other would-be ‘”intruder” Black parents. So there’s that.
Way to really come up, Mississippi. We see you.