NEW ORLEANS (CN) – A Mississippi lawmaker who compared Louisiana officials to Nazis and said they should be lynched for taking down four Confederate monuments in New Orleans apologized Monday after his comments sparked outrage.
State Rep. Karl Oliver, R-Winona, said in a Facebook post Saturday night that Louisiana lawmakers should be lynched for taking down Confederate monuments “of OUR HISTORY” in a “Nazi-ish fashion.”
“The destruction of these monuments, erected in the loving memory of our family and fellow Southern Americans, is both heinous and horrific,” Oliver wrote in his post. “If the, and I use this term extremely loosely, ‘leadership’ of Louisiana wishes to, in the Nazi-ish fashion, burn books or destroy historical 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.”
Oliver made the comments after three Confederate monuments and a monument commemorating white supremacy were removed in New Orleans.
Oliver’s post and comments to it were taken down Monday, and Oliver apologized.
“I, first and foremost, wish to extend this apology for any embarrassment I have caused to both my colleagues and fellow Mississippians,” Oliver in a statement. “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.”
At least 4,743 people were lynched in the United States from 1882 to 1968, most of them in the South, 3,446 of them black. More people were lynched in Mississippi than in any other state — 581, according to publicly available archives.
Rep. Oliver, a funeral director, represents the district that includes the town of Money, where black teenager Emmett Till was kidnapped and lynched in 1955, allegedly because he’d whistled at a white woman in a grocery store. Outrage over Till’s lynching helped spur the Civil Rights movement. The woman whom Till allegedly insulted recanted that claim in a recent biography, “The Blood of Emmett Till.”
Republican state Reps. John Read and Doug McLeod, “liked” Oliver’s Facebook post, as did Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman Tony Dunn, Mississippi News Now reported.
But Oliver’s comments drew bipartisan disgust Monday from lawmakers in Mississippi and Louisiana.
“Rep. Oliver’s language is unacceptable and had no place in civil discourse,” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, said Monday morning in an email to Mississippi Today.
Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson on Monday called for Oliver to resign.
“Anyone who champions a fond remembrance of such a violent, racist history is unworthy of elected office,” Johnson said.
“I am offended and outraged that a public official in 2017 would, with an obvious conviction and clear conscience, call for and promote one of the most cruel, vicious, and wicked acts in American history,” Mississippi state Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greeneville, said in a tweeted statement.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, a Democrat, said Monday that Oliver’s comments show why removing the monuments was the right thing to do, and necessary. Landrieu said it is time to confront racism head on.
“Now that everyone can see Mississippi state Rep. Oliver’s position on the matter clearly, his message proves our fight to tackle the issue of race head-on is both right and necessary,” Landrieu said.
The four monuments were slated for removal by Landrieu and the City Council in the summer of 2015 after a white racist murdered nine people and wounded three in the predominantly black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
In New Orleans, the decision to bring down the Confederate monuments sparked joy, outrage and anger — and death threats against the family of the first crew hired to take down a monument.
The Monumental Task Force Committee filed several lawsuits against New Orleans and sought a temporary restraining order to stop the city from taking down the monuments while the case was pending. Landrieu promised not to do so until the outcome of the lawsuit was determined, but even after the Fifth Circuit upheld a ruling by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier that the statues must come down, death threats against the family of the first contractor hired to remove the monuments caused him to pull out.
Last Friday afternoon, as the fourth monument, Robert E. Lee on horseback, came down, Landrieu spoke at a press conference at nearby Gallier Hall in New Orleans’ business district about New Orleans’ marred and violent racial history.
Landrieu mentioned “the self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments,” such as Oliver, whom he called on to stop being afraid of “our truth” – a truth that “For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph.”
“The soul of our beloved city is deeply rooted in a history that has evolved over thousands of years,” Landrieu said, “rooted in a diverse people who have been here together every step of the way – for both good and for ill. It is a history that holds in its heart the stories of Native Americans – the Choctaw, Houma Nation, the Chitimacha. Of Hernando de Soto, Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, the Acadians, the Islenos, the enslaved people from Senegambia, Free People of Color, the Haitians, the Germans, both the empires of France and Spain, the Italians, the Irish, the Cubans, the South and Central Americans, the Vietnamese and so many more.”
Landrieu reminded the crowd gathered around Gallier Hall that New Orleans was once one of the largest ports in the slave trade, with thousands of people being “bought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor, of misery, of rape and torture.”
“America was a place where nearly 4000 of our fellow citizens were lynched,” Landrieu continued in his speech, “540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom Riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp.
“So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well, what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.”
The mayor added: “We cannot be afraid of our truth.”
He said the four monuments that were removed belonged to the “Cult of the Lost Cause.”
The goal of the cult, Landrieu said, was to “rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.”
In closing, Landrieu said New Orleans and the South are better for having lost the Civil War.
“To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past. It is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future. … The Civil War is over, and the Confederacy lost and we are better for it,” Landrieu said.