I believe that US Senator Trent Lott should step down as Republican majority leader of the U. S. Senate, not because of what he said at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party, but because of what those words revealed about Lott. I believe that US Senator Trent Lott should step down as Republican majority leader of the U. S. Senate, not because of what he said at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party, but because of what those words revealed about Lott. On December 5, Lott said that if the rest of America had voted for Thurmond, when he ran for President in 1948, “we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years.”
Thurmond ran as a Dixiecrat in 1948. The Dixiecrat platform was devoted to the preservation of a segregated South. It said, “We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race.” That’s exactly what the Ku Klux Klan website says today.
Lott, born in 1941, grew up in Mississippi in the pre-integration days before Brown vs. Board of Education, voting acts, and civil rights. He was in college when integration came to Mississippi schools and vigorously opposed the admission of African Americans to his fraternity. Everything in his background would support segregationist views.
In the 1970s, with the force of the U.S. government behind new laws and policies, integration moved painfully into the mainstream of American life. In our community, we have always said that we cannot stop people from being racist. The most we can hope for is that people will stop behaving like racists.
Lott has revealed that he has changed his behavior to accommodate integration as the law of the land. He has never changed his belief that segregation is a better arrangement. He is not alone. Many people, not affiliated with the KKK would like to return to the 1940s.
Lott is neither a mystery nor a pariah in the eyes of his fellow Republican senators. He has worked in government since 1968, being elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1972 and the Senate in 1988. In 1980, he was the first Southerner to be chosen as Republican Whip in the House of Representatives, the second ranking leadership position in the party. He was re-elected three times. In 1995, he became Senate Majority Whip, the first person to hold that position in both houses of Congress. He serves on important Senate Committees and has been Secretary of the Senate Republican Conference. In other words, Lott is a known quantity in the Republican Party. The Republican Party has honored him and elevated him within their ranks.
It stands to reason that the Republican Party is likewise acquainted with Lott’s long history of racism. His positions are a matter of public record, i.e. his opposition to the Voting Rights Act extension, the Martin Luther King federal holiday, the confirmation of a highly-qualified African American judge. His association with the Council of Conservative Citizens and Bob Jones University are well-documented. Even since December 5, Lott has exhibited little understanding of the concepts of affirmative action or even inclusiveness. It is disingenuous of the other Republican Senators to claim Lott’s past has come as a surprise.
The mistake that Lott made on December 5 was to reveal his beliefs, beliefs that are unacceptable in the person who leads the United States Senate. He didn’t mean to reveal himself, of course. When he says he didn’t mean it, he is really saying that he didn’t mean for us to see the reality behind actions.
There are a lot of voters in Mississippi who believe as Lott does. They may not feel that he was out of line at all. They have voted for him in the past and I think that they should have the opportunity to vote for him in the future. As a Senator from Mississippi, Lott has a right to express his views.
But being Senate Majority Leader is altogether different from being Senator from Mississippi. As a political leader of a major party in 2003, it is not enough to behave as if you believe that all men are created equal. You must, in fact, b