Pressure built Thursday for a Mississippi county supervisor to resign after his comments drew national outrage for being racist.
Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders told reporters that black people developed a sense of dependency during slavery because “they didn’t have to go out and earn any money, they didn’t have to do anything.”
“Whoever owned them took care of them, fed them, clothed them, worked them,” he added. “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.”
Mr. Sanders made the comments after the Board of Commissioners debated whether to move a statue of a Confederate soldier, a common adornment to the public square of many towns in the Deep South, that had stood by the courthouse for more than 100 years.
The Board voted 3-2 along racial lines not to move the statue to a cemetery.
The remarks, which Mr. Sanders has refused to retract, infuriated many of the roughly 60,000 residents in the county, nestled in the state’s northeastern quadrant on the border with Alabama. At a rally Wednesday in the county seat of Columbus, demonstrators demanded that Mr. Sanders step aside.
The pressure mounted Thursday as his support in the business community appeared to be crumbling.
“He needs to go because of the adverse impact of his comments not just here but from a national perspective,” Supervisor Leroy Brooks told The Washington Times, saying he has received calls from across the U.S. “It hurts the credibility of our county, to have this 75-year-old, very mean-spirited, racially insensitive, vile Southern white man on the board.”
Mr. Brooks and Mr. Sanders have often found themselves locked in opposition on the board where each has sat for decades, and on one occasion they nearly came to blows, he said.
“He’s put white people here on the spot, into places they don’t want to be,” Mr. Brooks said. “Because it’s not just Harry, they’re enablers if they don’t denounce him. So we are looking for some enlightened white people in the community to say, enough, we’ll move for the greater good rather than protect someone with this racial attitude.”
“In a big city, they’d be burning up stuff now,” Mr. Brooks concluded.
Mr. Sanders, a Republican, could not be reached for comment, but he has stood by the comments he made initially to local The Commercial Dispatch newspaper.
The Mississippi GOP also disavowed any connection with Mr. Sanders’ remarks.
“The remarks made by Supervisor Sanders do not represent the platform or values of the Mississippi Republican Party, and I condemn them,” the state party chairman, Lucien Smith, said in a statement. “This is the time for our leaders to bring us together, not create division.”
Lowndes County’s etymology is problematic. It is named after William Jones Lowndes, a prominent rice planter and slaveowner in South Carolina in the early 19th century. Mr. Lowndes became a respected player in Congress and was one of the lawmakers who helped broker the Missouri Compromise in 1820.
The supervisors appear to have little recourse regarding Mr. Sanders beyond his resignation, according to Mr. Brooks. The board rejected a proposed compromise by which Mr. Sanders would step down as president but remain on the board, and his overwhelmingly white district is unlikely to vote for a recall.
Still, the pressure on Mr. Sanders is coming from all directions.
Joe Max Higgins, the chief executive of the Golden Triangle Development LINK, which is comprised of three Mississippi counties, denounced Mr. Sanders position Wednesday.
“We are deeply saddened and disappointed that Supervisor Harry Sanders, a partner who has contributed to the growth of our region, made statements in meetings and in subsequent interviews which cast a disturbing and negative shadow on our community,” he said. “Mr. Sanders’ comments … in no way reflect the thoughts and opinions of the Golden Triangle Development LINK or its members.”
“On the contrary,” Mr. Higgins added, “the Golden Triangle Development LINK condemns racism and inequality in all forms,” and he described Mr. Sanders’ words as “antiquated and abhorrent beliefs.”
Mr. Brooks described the opposition from business leaders as “profound.”
“You got to believe some whites want him gone because the world will just pass us by and no one should tolerate this kind of foolishness,” he told the Commercial Dispatch in Columbus.