WASHINGTON: Wade Henderson, the Executive Director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), issued the following statement today on behalf of the LCCR Executive Committee regarding Senator Trent Lott’s remarks at the 100th birthday celebration of retiring Senator Strom Thurmond:
“We are deeply troubled by the remarks made by incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, made at the 100th birthday celebration of Senator Strom Thurmond. During his speech, Senator Lott applauded Thurmond’s 1948 run for the presidency and stated that if the country had followed Mississippi’s lead and elected him, ‘we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years.’ We were shocked to hear this because Thurmond, who was then governor of South Carolina, had run as a ‘Dixiecrat,’ and based his entire candidacy upon his ardent support for racial segregation.
“Senator Lott’s comments have, rightfully, provoked significant criticism over the past several days. Last night, Senator Lott apologized for these remarks, and said that he did not mean to suggest that he embraced the racism that stood as the centerpiece of Strom Thurmond’s campaign. Some have suggested that Senator Lott’s proffered apology should bring this lamentable incident to a close. Unfortunately, however, we cannot dismiss Senator Lott’s remarks as a mere slip of the tongue or a simple lighthearted salute to an old friend. It is not his statement about Strom Thurmond alone, but the totality of his statements and actions regarding civil rights and racial equality, that reflect on his ability to serve as the Majority Leader of the United States Senate.
“If Senator Lott’s remarks last week were an isolated incident, we would be willing to accept his apology as truly genuine. His record, however, speaks far more loudly than his words alone:
- Senator Lott has long been affiliated with a racist organization known as the Council of Conservative Citizens, telling its members in 1992 that they stood for the ‘right principles and the right philosophy,’ and speaking at their meetings as recently as 1999.
- Senator Lott has defended the racist policies imposed on students at Bob Jones University. In fact, Senator Lott even took the trouble to file an amicus brief in the case in which Bob Jones University defended such policies.
- Senator Lott has aggressively pushed for the confirmation of federal judges with a demonstrated hostility to civil rights. One such appointee, Charles Pickering, even went so far as to advise the Mississippi legislature on how to strengthen Mississippi’s ban on interracial marriage, supported a Constitutional Convention to ban school desegregation orders, and made extrajudicial efforts to reduce the sentence of a convicted cross burner.
- Senator Lott was a leading advocate in the successful campaign to reinstate the citizenship of Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis. Davis was a staunch seccesionist for the Confederate South and was indicted for treason in 1866.
“In light of this record, we have serious doubts about whether Senator Lott can adequately represent the interests of such a diverse nation as ours, in the leadership position he is about to assume. While every individual is free to speak and believe as he or she wishes, our nation as a whole has changed drastically in the past fifty years, moving from a country that practiced its own version of apartheid to one in which equality is a cornerstone. And we do not believe that any individual who continues to adhere to the racist philosophies of the past, as demonstrated by actions as well as words, is fit to wield virtually unilateral control over the agenda of a body of government as crucial as the United States Senate.
“Accordingly, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights calls upon Senator Lott to step down as Senate Majority Leader, and for his colleagues in the Senate to repudiate Senator Lott’s comments, not just in their words but also in their actions regarding the civil rights issues of our day, issues that are just as important as the ones that Senator Thurmond unfortunately stood against so strongly in decades past.”