By George E. Curry
After expressing support four years ago for Senator Strom Thurmond’s pro-segregation 1948 presidential campaign, then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott went on Black Entertainment Television to repudiate himself, calling his comments insensitive, repugnant and inexcusable.
Lott was apologizing for having said at Thurmond’s 100th birthday party, “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.”
When interviewed on BET by Ed Gordon, Lott, in an unsuccessful attempt to save his Senate leadership position, said he was wrong to have voted against establishing a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday and said that he now favors affirmative action “across the board.” He said, “As majority leader, I can help move an agenda that would hopefully be helpful to African Americans and minorities of all kinds and all Americans.”
The groveling didn’t stop there. “I’m trying to find a way to deal with the understandable hurt that I’ve caused,” he told Gordon. “I obviously made a mistake, and I’m going to do everything I can do to admit that and deal with it and correct it. And that’s what I hope the people will give me a chance to do.”
And what has Lott done to “correct it?”
Nothing. On the NAACP Legislative Report Card for the 109th Congress (Jan. 4, 2005-Dec. 22, 2005), Lott received an “F,” voting in favor of issues supported by the NAACP only 5 percent of the time.
Instead of contrasting Lott’s words with his record, the media has been covering Lott’s one-vote victory margin to become Senate Minority Whip as a story of redemption and vindication.
An Associated Press headline proclaimed, “Sweet Redemption: Republicans return Lott to Senate Leadership.” The New York Times called it an “unlikely study in professional redemption.” To its credit, the Los Angeles Times noted that Lott has “a credibility problem on issues of race.”
In describing Lott’s noxious comments, some outlets were especially timid. For example, the Associated Press gingerly described them this way: “At Senator Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday bash, Lott had saluted the South Carolina senator with comments later interpreted as support for Southern segregationist policies.”
Although Lott denied being a racist on BET, his record arguably supports such a conclusion. Both Fair.org and MediaMatters.com, media monitoring groups, have Trent’s civil rights record posted on their sites, pointing out:
* In 1981, Lott filed a “friend of the court” brief opposing the IRS’s decision to terminate Bob Jones University’s tax exempt status because it prohibited interracial dating;
* In 1982, Lott voted against the extension of the Voting Rights Act;
* In 1983, he voted against creating a national holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.;
* He voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1990, a measure that reversed five Supreme Court rulings that would have made it more difficult for people of color to win job discrimination lawsuits;
* In 1992, he spoke to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a successor to the White Citizens’ Council of the 1960’s, saying “the people in this room stand for the right principles and the right philosophy. Let’s take it in the right direction, and our children will be the beneficiaries;”
* In 1994, he voted to terminate federal funding for the King Holiday Commission;
* In 1995, he criticized Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi’s lone African-American member of Congress, for seeking FBI documents on the death of civil rights leader Vernon Dahmer and
* In 2001, he was the only U.S. Senator to vote against President George W. Bush’s nomination of Roger Gregory, an African-American, to the Fourth U.S Court of Appeals.
In acknowledging to Ed Gordon that he had been wrong to vote against the federal holiday honoring Dr. King, Lott said: “I’m not sure we in America, certainly not white America and the people in the South, fully understood who this man was, the impact he was having on the fabric of this country.”
Linda Chavez, a leading conservative, didn’t buy that one.
“Sorry, Senator, that statement reflects willful ignorance. No one who lived through the civil rights era can fail to appreciate the social transformation that occurred through the efforts of Rev. King and other civil rights leaders.
“Sen. Lott’s problem is not that he didn’t understand what Rev. King was fighting for, but that, at that time, he was on the other side.”
If Lott was sincere when he said he favors affirmative action “across the board,” there could be no better time than now to prove it. If he’s not sincere, we should see Trent Lott for what he is: a politician willing to say anything to regain power.
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service