Cindy Hyde-Smith, the Republican Mississippi senator who made comments condoning “public hangings,” attended a “segregated” school when she was younger, the Jackson Free Press reported Friday after unearthing a 1975 yearbook photo.
The school, Lawrence County Academy, was set up for white parents to avoid sending their children to school with black children, according to the Free Press. Many such schools, dubbed “segregation academies,” were created in the South following desegregation as inexpensive, private educational options.
Hyde-Smith is identified in a caption beneath the yearbook photograph, which shows a row of cheerleaders smiling as they lie on the ground, propped up on their elbows, as a girl dressed in what seems to be Civil War–era regalia stands in the center holding an apparent Confederate flag.
Lawrence County Academy was established in 1970, one year after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Mississippi to desegregate its schools. For 15 years after desegregation became law of the land, Mississippi dragged its feet on integrating black and white students.
A former student who provided the photo to the newspaper said she realized at the time that her parents sent her to Lawrence County Academy to avoid interactions with black students. Segregation was not openly acknowledged at the school, she said.
Hyde-Smith sent her daughter to a similar school, Brookhaven Academy, which is nearly all white despite being located in a majority-black town.
The senator faces Democratic challenger Mike Espy in a special election Nov. 27. She was appointed by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to fill the seat vacated in April by former Sen. Thad Cochran, who stepped down for health reasons.
Hyde-Smith has been heavily criticized this month for making racist comments on the Confederate South.
In a state with an ugly history of terrorizing African-Americans with lynchings, Hyde-Smith said of a local rancher in early November, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” Espy called the comment “reprehensible.”
Although she later apologized for her remark, she accused her opponents of twisting her words for political gain.
A 2014 Facebook post in which Hyde-Smith praises Confederate history subsequently surfaced. Alongside a smiling photo of herself in a Confederate hat and holding a rifle at a museum exhibit, the senator wrote, “Mississippi history at its best!”
She also appeared to voice support for voter suppression at a campaign stop earlier this month, telling constituents “maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult” to vote due to the “liberal folks in those other schools who maybe we don’t want to vote.”
“And I think that’s a great idea,” she said.
President Donald Trump, of whom Hyde-Smith has been a vocal supporter, will hold two rallies in Mississippi on Monday to whip up support for the Republican candidate.