Lott Should Resign

The Nation, December 30, 2002 | Go to article overview

Lott Should Resign


Among the obscenities accumulating in the political atmosphere, the most disgusting may be Trent Lott. He is a racist--actually an unreconstructed segregationist--and he is about to become again the majority leader of the Senate. We knew the truth about this man long ago, since his career in Washington is littered with the evidence of his reactionary views on race. But what makes him particularly dangerous at this moment is that, buoyed by postelection Republican triumphalism, the Mississippi Senator found the audacity to crow about his racist opinions in public. This occurred at the hundredth birthday party for retiring Senator Strom Thurmond, who himself carried the white-supremacy banner back in 1948, when he ran for President as the Dixiecrat candidate, proclaiming: "All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negroes into our homes, our schools, our churches."

This is how Senator Lott toasted the old man from South Carolina: "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for President, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either." Who is the "we" in Lott's declaration? The white people of the South who used the powers of state and local governments to impose the racial caste system called Jim Crow upon their fellow citizens. What were "all these problems" Lott wished to avoid? The triumph of legal equality for African-Americans, including, in the South, the long-denied right to vote. The victory was won, despite the hostility of segs like Lott and Thurmond, by people of very humble means who struggled valiantly for years, through pain and bloodshed, to overcome the stranglehold of America's apartheid. In the end, as Martin Luther King Jr. prophesied, they liberated white Americans too, including white Mississippians, by removing this historic stain from our society. Senator Lott was not saved, however. It is a scandal that he is allowed to hold such a powerful position in the Republican Party.

Where is the outrage? The general silence is more alarming than Lott himself. The New York Times initially found his remarks un-newsworthy and acknowledged them only after Lott issued, first, a slippery denial, then a grudging apology. The Washington Post published a crisp, comprehensive account by Thomas Edsall, but it ran on page six, not on the front page where it belonged. Edsall reminded readers that in 1992, Senator Lott spoke before a remnant white-supremacist organization, the devoted successor to Mississippi's notorious White Citizens Councils, which acted like a racial gestapo in the 1950s. Lott always denies the obvious when he is caught out. As a freshman Congressman two decades ago, one of the first bills he introduced was to halt school desegregation. …

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