The statue of one of Mississippi’s most outspoken segregationist politicians, former Gov. Theodore Bilbo, has quietly been removed from public view in the state Capitol.
The bronze, allegedly life-size statue of the diminutive Bilbo, standing with his right hand pointing toward the sky as if delivering one of his fiery speeches, apparently has been missing for the entire legislative session which began Jan. 4, though its disappearance was not noticed by most people until this week.
On Thursday, no one would publicly take credit for the removal. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said he did not know the statue had been removed. A spokesperson for the state Department of Finance and Administration referred questions to House members since it was in a House committee room.
“I don’t have any idea,” House Speaker Philip Gunn said Thursday afternoon. “I heard about it at lunch.” Gunn said he would investigate.
House Pro Tem Jason White, R-West, who chairs the Management Committee that administers House staff and the House’s portion of the state Capitol, also said he did not know about the disappearance.
Rep. Lee Yancey surmised that the removal of the statue was not an easy task.
“He is 5-foot-2 and weighs 1,000 pounds, so he did not go willingly,” Yancey, R-Brandon, said. “I don’t know anything about it.”
“I guess it is like where’s Waldo,” said Rep. Tom Miles, D-Forest. “That is the mystery.”
The controversial Bilbo, who fought off bribery charges to be elected governor twice and later to the U.S. Senate, died in 1947 in the midst of a standoff on whether his fellow senators would seat him after his re-election.
During a filibuster to try to block Senate passage of an anti lynching bill, Bilbo said, ”If you succeed in the passage of this bill, you will open the floodgates of hell in the South. Raping, mobbing, lynching, race riots, and crime will be increased a thousandfold; and upon your garments and the garments of those who are responsible for the passage of the measure will be the blood of the raped and outraged daughters of Dixie, as well as the blood of the perpetrators of these crimes that the red-blooded Anglo-Saxon White Southern men will not tolerate.”
Some said they hope the statue ends up in a museum.
“I haven’t heard anything about it being gone,” said Rep. Bryant Clark, D-Pickens, whose father, Robert, broke barriers in 1967 when he became the first African American elected to the Legislature since the 1800s. “Hopefully, he has been removed to a museum where he belongs.”
While no one would take credit for the removal of the statue, whispers from various sources indicated that it is still in the Capitol.
State Sen. Angela Hill, R-Picayune, who hails from Bilbo’s home county of Pearl River, said on social media, “It was removed by a House staff member without the authority to do so from what I gather.”
A joint legislative resolution passed in the early 1950s called for the statue to be displayed prominently on the first floor of the Capitol. Clark said his father recalled when the statue was located in the Capitol rotunda.
“It was the first thing you saw when you walked in,” Clark said.
But in the early 1980s, the Capitol was closed for renovation. During that time, the Legislature met in the old Central High School building blocks from the Capitol. When the building was reopened, then-Gov. William Winter — or at least his administration — had moved the statue to room 113, the largest House committee room in the building.
Multiple legislators who had attended committee meetings in room 113 this session said they did not realize it was missing. A bust of Thomas Bailey, who served as governor in the 1940s, is also missing from room 113. But apparently it had been returned to the Department of Archives and History, which owns the bust.
Besides room 113 being used for House committee meetings, the Republican caucus of the House and the Legislative Black Caucus often meet in the space.
“The Black Caucus for years has asked that the statue be removed,” said Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez, the House Democratic leader. “We have never gotten a response.”
Johnson added, “We do not need a statue of Theodore Gilmore Bilbo, or whatever his name is, who said Blacks should not be educated and who reveled in racism in a place of prominence after we have changed the state flag and after all the progress we have made.”
Rep. Zakiya Summers, D-Jackson, said, “Every time I go in room 113, I look at the statue of former Gov. Bilbo, and I say to him as if he can hear me: ‘I am meant to be here and you can’t stop me.’”
Summers nor anyone else can tell him that at the time of this article’s publication.