Rejection of a black educator angers some Mississippi senators

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — The Republican-led Mississippi Senate on Wednesday voted against confirming veteran educator Robert P. Taylor as the state school boardwhich angered some black Democrats, who said the rejection was at least partly because Taylor is black and wrote about the state’s racist history years ago.

The State Board of Education — whose members are chosen by the Republican governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House of Representatives — conducted a statewide search for a superintendent last year. board members announced Nov that their unanimous choice was Taylor, who had worked in North Carolina for the past 30 years.

“This whole confirmation was a political process, and I knew that was coming,” Taylor told The Associated Press Wednesday night after the Senate vote. He said that in the past senators had confirmed all previous candidates for the office of state superintendent and he was disappointed that this group of senators did not confirm him.

“The fact that they didn’t, I have to live with that,” Taylor said. “I will always respect the process.”

It’s not uncommon for candidates to serve while they wait for senators to consider confirmation, and Taylor has served as Mississippi’s superintendent since January. With the Senate’s rejection, the board will seek another superintendent.

About 38% of Mississippi residents are black. Taylor would have been Mississippi’s second black inspector of education after Henry Johnson served from 2002 to 2005.

Taylor grew up in Laurel, Mississippi and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1990. As a student, he wrote for a newsletter called “The Unheard Word,” which gave a voice to black students that the campus newspaper often ignored.

A 2020 article about the university Center for Black Studies Website focused on the short-lived newsletter.

“‘The Unheard Word’ acknowledged, in my opinion, that the University of Southern Mississippi was in the most racist state in the Union and that while the historical focus has always been the University of Mississippi, Southern Miss had a depraved past as well,” said Taylor at the Center for Black Studies.

Taylor told AP in a phone interview that it’s important that people read his words in context. He said the newsletter wrote about the story, for example Clyde Kennard, who tried to become the university’s first black student in the 1950s and was rejected because of his race. The Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, a state espionage agency at the time, sought to block Kennard’s enrollment.

Wednesday’s Senate vote on Taylor’s nomination went mostly along the party line, with 31 Republicans voting against. Of the 21 who voted to confirm, five were Republicans and the rest were Democrats.

“Because we reject him because of his race, we reject God because God made him that way,” said Democratic Senator David Jordan, who is black.

Republican Senator Chris Johnson of Hattiesburg, who is white, voted in favor of Taylor’s nomination. He said Taylor gave straightforward answers to senators’ questions during a confirmation hearing, including what he wrote about Mississippi’s racial history.

“He responded to that by saying, ‘That’s how I felt at the time,'” Johnson told reporters Wednesday after the nomination fell through.

Former Mississippi Inspector of Education Carey Wright retired June 30 after 13 years in office. An interim superintendent took office on July 1 and served until Taylor arrived.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis DeBar, a white Republican from Leaksville, said race had nothing to do with his vote against Taylor’s nomination. DeBar said he thinks Taylor is a good man and should be respected.

“I think what Dr. What hurt Taylor the most … is that we have several underperforming schools in our state,” DeBar said. “We would like to see someone with a better CV to improve underperforming schools.”

Democratic Senator Derrick Simmons of Greenville, who is black, said Taylor should have been confirmed.

“DR. Taylor has done everything we tell the people of Mississippi to do — get a good education, try to use that good education, go out and get experience, and then come back to the state of Mississippi and give all of Mississippi’s teaching talents and all of your educational experience and give back to the community that gave to you,” Simmons said.

Hours after the Senate rejected Taylor’s nomination, Canton Democratic Sen. Barbara Blackmon, who is black, attempted to change other laws to say Mississippi would only consider candidates who never left the state – a way of fueling her anger to express the rejection. Lt. gov. Delbert Hosemann said the change was irrelevant and the senators did not vote on it.

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