Black MS candidate explains why GOP opponent's joke about 'public hanging' is 'harmful' in a state known for lynchings
Mississippi Dem Senate candidate Mike Espy (left) and his opponent, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS, right). Images via screengrab.

A black Mississippi senator on Monday explained why newly-uncovered comments by his white Republican opponent joking about attending a "public hanging" are so hurtful in a state known for its history of lynchings.

While praising a rancher during a November 2 campaign stop, US Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith said that if the man standing with her "invited me to a public hanging, I'd be in the front row."

As Ashton Pittman of the Jackson Free Press noted, Hyde-Smith's Democratic opponent Mike Espy is the state's "first black congressman since Reconstruction." Pittman also noted that Mississippi was the state with the most lynchings between 1877-1950.

MSNBC's Chris Matthews noted that in response to the comments going viral, the senator who was appointed by the state's governor in April 2018 after the resignation of longtime Sen. Thad Cochran said she "used an exaggerated expression of regard" and that "any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous."

"I have to confess to you," Espy told the MSNBC host. "I've never heard that time of colloquialism."

The former Agriculture secretary under President Bill Clinton said Hyde-Smith's comments were not only "disappointing to millions of Mississippians of good will," but also were "very harmful."

"It again reinforces stereotypes that we've been trying to get away from for decades," he said. "Stereotypes that just continue to harm our economy and costs us jobs."

"I can't reach into her heart and determine why that came out of her mouth," Espy said. "But it was wrong."

The former congressman noted that he sits on the board of directors at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and knows "that history very well."

"It's got a lynching or public hanging exhibit, and it's visceral and it's sobering," Espy said. "You just -- when you go through that, it's got a list of every Mississippian from Reconstruction through the mid '60s that were lynched and it's got their name and the allegations, you know, for that punishment."

"These comments from a sitting U.S. senator have harmed our state and it's just -- you know, we have to get beyond this now," he added. "It's 2018. We're now going into the third decade of our 21st century. It's time-out for these type of comments, throwback comments."

Watch below via MSNBC: