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Mississippi legislators sidestep some division

Mississippi lawmakers grabbed national headlines this year by banning transgender athletes from competing on girls’ or women’s sports teams. They walked away from some other divisive issues during their three-month session.

Republican Sen. Angela Hill of Picayune argued in favor of the transgender sports bill, and she stood behind Republican Gov. Tate Reeves as he signed it into law.

Hill filed a separate bill that would have prohibited hormone treatments or surgery from being performed on transgender minors.

Senate Bill 2171, the “Transgender 21 Act,” died because it was not brought up for votes in the Senate Public Health Committee and the Senate Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee. Arkansas legislators passed a similar bill this year, pushing it into law over the veto  of Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Hill also sponsored Senate Resolution 56, which died when it was not brought up for a vote in the Senate Rules Committee. It would have had the Mississippi Senate express disapproval of  “critical race theory,” which examines the ways racism affects culture, politics and law.

In September, then-President Donald Trump issued orders banning  federal agencies and contractors from using critical race theory in training. Critics said the Republican was trying to portray white people as victims to curry favor with conservative voters. Democratic President Joe Biden repealed the ban soon after he took office in January.

Hill is a Trump supporter, and her resolution said “critical race theory and related ideologies propagate divisive and untrue concepts that teach one race or sex is inherently superior to another and that individuals of one race or sex should be deprived of basic rights simply because of their race or sex.”

While Reeves never publicly took a stance on Hill’s resolution, he said Thursday during a Fox News event with other Republican governors: “There is not systemic racism in America. We live in the greatest country in the history of mankind.”

House Concurrent Resolution 62, was filed by Republican Reps. Chris Brown of Nettleton, Dan Eubanks of Walls and Dana Criswell of Olive Branch, was nearly identical to Hill’s resolution.

It died for lack of a vote in the House Rules Committee. Their resolution said: “we affirm our resolute opposition to the promotion of race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating and condemn the use of divisive concepts and theories that propagate such stereotyping and scapegoating.”

Stereotyping and scapegoating based on race have been prevalent in Mississippi history. The  Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, near the state Capitol, gives a thorough account of lynching and other terrorism inflicted on Black people.

One of the atrocities examined in the museum is the 1955 killing of Emmett Till, a Black 14-year-old from Chicago who spent that summer with relatives in the Mississippi Delta.

Till was kidnapped and killed after witnesses said he whistled at a white woman working in a store in the tiny community of Money.

His mutilated body was later pulled from the Tallahatchie River, and his mother insisted on an open casket at his Chicago funeral so the world could see the torture inflicted on her son.

In his 2017 book “The Blood of Emmett Till,” author Timothy B. Tyson quoted the white woman from the store, Carolyn Bryant Donham, as saying she wasn’t truthful when she claimed Till grabbed her and made sexual advances.

During the legislative session this year, Democratic Rep. John Hines of Greenville filed House Resolution 1, which would have been an apology from the state of Mississippi for what happened to Till. The resolution died when it didn’t come up for a vote in the House Rules Committee.

The resolution said that “in light of the recent confession by Carolyn Bryant that her story, which led to the death of 14-year-old Emmett Till, was fabricated and nothing but falsehoods, the time has come for Mississippi to apologize for its part in creating a toxic environment … that ultimately led to the murder of Emmett Till.”

Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994.

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