JACKSON, Miss. – Calls are increasing for a white Mississippi elected official to either step down as supervisor board president or resign entirely amid racist remarks he made to a local newspaper after voting against relocating a Confederate monument in front of the county courthouse.
The official is not only rejecting those calls, but doubling down on his stance.
“I’m not going to stand and run from it; hell, it’s what I think,” Lowndes County Supervisor Harry Sanders said Tuesday.
On Monday, after a 3-2 vote to relocate a Confederate statue to the local cemetery failed, Sanderstold Starkville, Mississippi, newspaper The Commercial Dispatch that Black people were dependent on society because they were “taken care of” during slavery.
“In my opinion, they were slaves, and because of that, they didn’t have to go out and earn any money, they didn’t have to do anything,” Sanders said. “Whoever owned them, took care of them, fed them, clothed them, worked them. They became dependent, and that dependency is still there. The Democrats right here who depend on the Black vote to get elected, they make them dependent on them.”
Sanders told the Mississippi Clarion Ledger of the USA TODAY Network that his comments were made off the record but he stood by them.
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The Commercial Dispatch could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
Of the statue, Sanders told the paper, “We haven’t had slavery in the United States for 150 years. Why is it still an issue?”
Sanders also seemed to compare slavery to the internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II who were later paid reparations.
“We didn’t do the Japanese right here in World War II, we put them all … in a concentration camp and everything and nobody said a damn word about it today,” he said. “Are the Japanese all upset about that, burning stuff down and all that? No, they’ve (been) assimilated into the country and they are doing fine. The only ones that are having the problems, guess who? The African Americans.”
On Tuesday morning, when asked whether he understood how the comments could be perceived as racist, Sanders said, “I certainly do but, look, you can’t change history. Am I not supposed to talk about what happened 150 years ago? Am I not supposed to talk about what happened in World War II with the Japanese? Am I not supposed to talk about any of that?
“It comes off (as racist) because of the way they put it in the newspaper. That’s not the way I said, it but that’s OK.”
Sanders: ‘You can’t change history’
During Monday’s supervisor meeting, Supervisor Leroy Brooks made the motion to relocate the statue. Sanders made a “compromise motion,” he said, to put something on the monument with historical context, including “the Blacks and the slavery to say it was all wrong” but “they didn’t want to even hear that.”
Sanders said he then withdrew the motion “because Leroy insisted I withdraw it when Leroy said … ‘Let’s just go ahead and vote on not moving the statue.'”
“I gave a little and they didn’t want to do anything about it.”
Brooks said Sanders made a substitute motion to add context to the statue but did not provide additional details, a move he saw as a “distraction.”
“I said, ‘I’d just rather you vote yes or no.’ He never stated what we wanted on there, he was just trying to distract from what was the issue. If you added something, the statue was still there,” Brooks said.
The motion failed along racial lines. There are three white supervisors on the board and two Black.
Regardless of Sanders’ feelings on the issue, Brooks said, “that does not give him the right” to make the racistremarks. Brooks also noted that, with approximately 60,000 residents, Lowndes County is 46% Black.
“If we were in a large city and an elected official says something like that, they would probably destroy the courthouse,” Brooks said. “Whatever his motive was, for him to insult Black people the way he did and diminish us to the point of nothingness, who does that?”
Lowndes County district attorney Scott Colom condemned Sanders’ remarks, equating them to lies used by the KKK.
“Supervisor Sanders’ ignorant and vile comments have it backwards,” Colom said. “Slave owners depended on beating, rape, separation of families and fear to maintain free labor.
“These are the types of lies the KKK depend on to promote white supremacy. He should be ashamed of himself.”
The statue was erected in 1912 and is inscribed, “In honor of the soldiers of Lowndes County who nobly dared life and fortune in defense of the southern confederacy.”
In speaking with the Mississippi Clarion Ledger, Sanders did not apologize for his remarks. Of the statue, he repeatedly said, “you can’t change history.”
“I like it where it is; I don’t want to move it,” Sanders said. “It’s been there 100 years and there’s no reason to remove it. You can’t change history by sweeping it under the rug. You can’t change what that statue says. You need to just accept what it says and move on with your life.”
When asked whether he understood how Black residents of Lowndes County could feel like their feelings toward the statue aren’t being acknowledged, Sanders said, “The Black people aren’t acknowledging how white people feel.
“They say ‘Black Lives Matter’, white lives matter too, Chinese lives matter…they tore down Christopher Columbus’ statue. George Washington owned slaves. Do you want to change the name of the Washington Monument, do you want to change the name of our capital? You want to change the name of Jefferson Davis County, do you want to change the name of Lee County, change the name of Forrest County? There’s got to be a stopping place someplace.”
In light of Sanders’ comments, Brooks said he has received more phone calls from concerned citizens than he has in recent memory:
“If there was any question about whether the Black community was unified, Harry Sanders unified (it). They’re all saying the same thing, ‘It’s time for him to go, he can’t represent Lowndes County any more.'”
A press conference with the NAACP was set for Wednesday to condemn Sanders’ comments and call for his resignation, Brooks said.