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Should Trent Lott Resign? The Senate Republican Leader’s Support for Strom Thurmond’s 1948 “Segregation Forever” Presidential Campaign Generates Mass Calls for Him to Step Down, He Refuses

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Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott last night refused to step down from his leadership post as criticism escalated over comments he made last week endorsing Strom Thurmond’s run for president in 1948.

At a 100th birthday celebration for Thurmond, Lott, who is from Mississippi, said, “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.” Thurmond ran his 1948 campaign on a pro-segregation, anti-civil rights platform. One of the slogans for his campaign was Segregation Forever. At one rally Thurmond told supporters, “I want to tell you, ladies and gentleman, that there’s not enough troops in the army to force the southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.”

Civil rights groups, Democrats and moderate Republicans have all criticized Lott. Jesse Jackson, the NAACP, Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California, former Vice President Al Gore and potential 2004 presidential candidate and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry have called for Lott to step down from his leadership role or to resign outright. Lott says he will do neither.

Yesterday for the third time Lott attempted to explain his comment. “I regret my words; they were poorly chosen and insensitive,” he said on Sean Hannity’s national radio program. “I can almost say this was a mistake of the head, not the heart, because I don’t accept those policies of the past at all.” However the Mississippi Clarion Ledger has noted that Lott repeated almost the same phrase 20 years ago.

At a campaign stop in 1980 for Ronald Reagan in Jackson Mississippi, Lott said of Thurmond, “You know, if we had elected this man 30 years ago, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today.”

According to the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Lott has long history of support for racist and neo-Confederate causes that is seldom covered in the media.

As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978, Lott was behind a successful effort to re-instate the citizenship of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

In 1981, the year he became house minority whip, Lott prodded the Reagan administration into taking the side of Bob Jones University and other segregated private schools that were suing the Internal Revenue Service to restore tax exemptions withdrawn a decade earlier because of the schools’ discriminatory racial policies.

In 1982 and 1990, Lott voted against extending the Voting Rights Act, the law passed to insure that minorities–especially Southern blacks–had access to the voting booth.

In 1983, Lott voted against a national holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr., and in 1994 he voted to de-fund the MLK Jr. Holiday commission.

In 1990, he voted against continuation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the crown jewel of civil-rights legislation that desegregated education and public accommodations.

Guests:

  • Steve Rendall, senior analyst at FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.
  • Joseph Watkins, former Republican White House aide serving as associate director at the Office of Public Liaison during the first Bush administration. In the early eighties, he was the Assistant State Director in the office of Senator Dan Quayle.
  • Gordon Lee Baum, CEO of the Council of Conservative Citizens.
  • Mark Potok, Editor of the Quarterly Intelligence Report for the Southern Poverty Law Center, and co-author of the report on the Council of Conservative Citizens entitled “Sharks in the Mainstream.”

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