Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith is under fire for attending a school that was formed for the sole purpose of avoiding attending classes with black children, Jackson Free Press is reporting. A 1975 yearbook has surfaced with photos of Hyde-Smith as a cheerleader at Lawrence County Academy, where the mascot appears to be a Confederate soldier. This adds another layer of controversy to comments Hyde-Smith made recently where she said she would be “on the front row” if supporter Colin Hutchinson invited her to a “public hanging.” Many people did not take kindly to this comment, especially since Mississippi has a tragic history of lynchings.
Though the Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of schools in 1954 and again in 1955, many counties were slow-going about instilling these changes. In 1969, the Supreme Court ordered that schools have desegregation occur immediately, and Mississippi governor John Bell Williams backed this up by stating all public schools must integrate by the time Christmas break ended in 1970. This was also the year private schools Lawrence County Academy and Brookhaven Academy opened. Legislation even helped provide vouchers for white families who could not afford the cost of the private schools. While Hyde-Smith attended Laurence County, her daughter ended up attending Brookhaven years later.
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Mississippi, says she would be "on the front row" at "a public hanging." She is running against Mike Espy (@espyforsenate), who in 1987 became Mississippi's first black congressman since Reconstruction. MS was state w most lynchings in 1877-1950. #MSSen pic.twitter.com/Ghp3b3fpVA— Ashton Pittman (@ashtonpittman) November 11, 2018
A former student of Lawrence County who wishes to remain nameless provided the yearbook to the press. The student said that while administrators never spoke of why the schools opened, most students were able to learn the reason from their families as they got older. It’s been noted that while Hyde-Smith often speaks of the education she received at Copiah-Lincoln Community College and the University of Southern Mississippi, she makes no mention of her high school. Former Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Rickey Cole recalled everyone knowing the reason why these schools were created.
“When the public schools in Mississippi were ordered desegregated, many thousands of white families cobbled together what they could laughingly call a school to send their children to for no other reason except they didn’t want them to be around n-words or to be treated or behave as equal to black people,” he said.
These segregated private schools changed slowly with the times and eventually were re-branded as Christian schools. The schools also began to accept black students, and while Lawrence County academy eventually closed down, schools like Brookhaven remained open. Cole believes that Hyde-Smith was completely aware of Brookhaven’s history when she decided to have her daughter attend there, and thinks the Senator “should not get a pass.”
“Socially, instinctively and intuitively, I know why these things happened, because it’s what we all lived through,” Cole said. “For the younger generation, though, this will be big news to them. Hell, it might even be big news to Cindy’s daughter. That’s the way it always was, and we were very much separate and unequal.”