Mississippi House representative Karl Oliver (R) faced an outpouring of backlash from Democrats and Republicans alike this week following the circulation of a controversial Facebook post in which he called for advocates of Confederate monument removal to be lynched. While the post has since been removed, many are calling for further action to be taken against the lawmaker.
The post (which was published via Oliver’s Facebook account on Saturday) specifically acted as a reaction to the removal of the final remaining Confederate monuments in Louisiana, a topic which has dominated national political discourse in recent weeks. A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee was taken down in New Orleans one day prior to the rollout of Oliver’s shocking statements suggesting that Louisiana leaders and supporters of their efforts should be extrajudicially murdered for their stance on the matter. The lawmaker went on to compare his neighboring state’s actions to those of the Nazis as well, a comment which some say has since magnified the controversy.
“The destruction of these monuments, erected in the loving memory of our friends and fellow Southern Americans, is both heinous and horrific. If the, and I use this term loosely, ‘leadership’ of Louisiana wishes to, in a Nazi-ish fashion, burn books or destroy monuments of OUR HISTORY, they should be LYNCHED! Let it be known, I will do all in my power to prevent this from happening in our state.”
The explosive comments were not immediately met with harsh condemnation, however. Oliver’s post was “liked” by two other local representatives of the GOP, state Rep. John Read of Mississippi’s 112th district and state rep. Doug McLeod of state District 107. Oliver himself represents the 46th district, an area which encompasses the small town in which Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy, was brutally kidnapped from his home before being beaten, mutilated, fatally shot, and thrown into the Tallahatchie River all for speaking to a white woman.
The brutal 1955 lynching provoked national outrage following the young boy’s public, open-casket funeral, where thousands of guests were exposed to his bloated and tortured remains. The national conversation that resulted became a pivotal moment in the history of the Civil Rights movement.
His district’s relationship to the Emmett Till story is not the only historical point that critics have cited in their responses to Oliver’s inflammatory remarks. As a recent report from The Guardian describes, Mississippi being the only state which still displays the Confederate symbol in the design of their own flag represents a point of debate which has left tensions within the state running increasingly high. The article also points to Mississippi’s history of having the second-most recorded lynchings of African-Americans of any state as a fact which may further darken the implications of the lawmaker’s violent suggestion.
Over the weekend following the release of the statements, the post drew increasing amounts of criticism from other leaders of all political affiliations. With some calling for Oliver’s resignation and others even suggesting legal prosecution be taken against the lawmaker, many did not hesitate to mention the historical significance of lynchings in the South.
Mississippi Democrat and Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus member Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes addressed the topic in her email response addressed to a local TV station.
“The shameful, but seemingly extremely comfortable, choice of words used by my colleague Rep. Karl Oliver, were offensive to me as the act of lynching was commonly used and most targeted toward African American men, women and children in the south and especially in our state.“
The post was ultimately deleted on Monday following two days of mounting public backlash. Oliver then issued an apology asking constituents’ forgiveness for his choice of words.
“I, first and foremost, wish to extend this apology for any embarrassment I have caused to both my colleagues and fellow Mississippians. In an effort to express my passion for preserving all historical monuments, I acknowledge the word ‘lynched’ was wrong. 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. I freely admit my choice of words was horribly wrong, and I humbly ask your forgiveness.”
[Featured Image by Rogelio V. Solis/AP Images]