Mississippi’s most racist member of Congress


Published: 12/3/2018 12:23:31 PM

U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) has apologized for her tone-deaf comment about attending a hanging, but she is not the most enduring racist to walk the Halls of Congress from the Magnolia state.

John Elliot Rankin (D-MS) served as a Congressman from Mississippi for 32 years (1921-1953). He remained a reliable vote for the segregation movement and white supremacy. While in Congress, he proposed a bill to outlaw interracial marriage, and opposed efforts to eliminate Mississippi’s use of the poll tax, which kept poor people from voting. From the floor of the House of Representatives, Rankin espoused broad racist views not only towards Blacks, but Japanese Americans and Jews.

In January of 1922, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to adopt an anti-lynching bill, which had the support of Republican President Warren Harding. The bill made lynching a federal felony, allowing the federal government to prosecute cases that state and local jurisdictions had ignored or mishandled.

Under the anti-lynching bill, a state or local official who failed to protect a person from lynching could face up to 5 years in jail and a $5,000 fine. Anyone who took part in a lynching would receive at least 5 years in prison. Any county in which a lynching took place would be subject to a $10,000 fine, which would be paid to the victim’s family or his parents.

Democratic Rep. John Elliott Rankin was a vocal opponent of the anti-lynching bill. “This bill is but a play to the Negro agitator for political effect, and it will not only fail to decrease the number of lynchings, or remedy the causes thereof, but it will encourage the Negro brutes in their attacks on the defenseless white women of the Mississippi, and this great country. This legislation ought to be called ‘A bill to encourage rape.’ That will be the result if it becomes the law. It will cost the lives of innocent white women and children throughout the South, if not throughout the entire country.”

“A vast number of innocent white women are outraged by Negroes in the South every year,” Rankin noted, “and now this evil is creeping into the North. Their time is coming; the Negroes are migrating to the North, and the day is not far distant when they will awake to a realization of the fact that they have a more serious race problem on their hands than the South has on hers.

“The Negro is not the equal of the White man, and he never will be,” Rankin continued. “It is impossible to reverse the laws of nature and lift the Negro through tens of thousands of years of civilization, education, and development, regenerate him, purge him of his weaknesses and his instincts, and endow him with Caucasian strength, traits, and characteristics, and make him the peer of the white man.”

Rankin’s solution was simple: “We need to segregate the races not only socially, but politically as well. There ought to be a law in every State in the Union prohibiting intermarriage between the races, and they ought to be separated in all governmental activities: in the Army, in the Navy, in schools, and on street cars, railroad trains, and other common carriers. There ought to be, and there must be, before this question is settled, a segregation law in every State, separating whites. and Negroes in the residential sections of cities, towns, and municipalities.”

Rankin correctly concluded that racial conflict had “rent this Republic in civil feuds and drenched her soil in fraternal blood and has kept our people divided by partisan strife and sectional feelings for more than a hundred years.”

In 1947, Rankin ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate. He lost the race, securing only 13% of the votes cast. Five years later, when his district was combined with another district, Rankin lost his House seat to a Democratic challenger, and retired from politics. But Congress never passed an anti-lynching bill.

The photo of a grinning Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith wearing a Confederate cap and bearing a rebel’s rifle is evidence that Rankin’s legacy lives on. Our political soil is drenched in fraternal blood, and we remain deeply divided as a nation.

Albert Norman’s latest book “RAVINGS: American Wild Talk,” includes a chapter on John Elliott Rankin.


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261


Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy