For Mississippians stung by the whip of racism, the firestorm engulfing Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott is long overdue. Charles Tisdale, publisher of The Jackson Advocate, an African-American newspaper, told the World, ‘With a record as bad as Lott’s, I can’t see why people are surprised. I’ve known Lott for 35 years. He’s always been a racist.’
The recent furor erupted when Lott saluted retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) at his 100th birthday party, attended by the Washington elite. It would have been better, Lott said, if Thurmond had won the presidential election in 1948. Thurmond was running on the Dixiecrat Party ticket with the slogan, ‘Segregation now, segregation forever.’
Lott defenders portray his comments as a joking reference to a bygone era. But Tisdale responded, ‘The schools in Mississippi are as segregated in 2002 as they were in 1962. The public schools are 93 percent Black. White children go to separate schools.’
The outrage over Lott’s racism ‘is not going to go away,’ Tisdale said. A few weeks ago Lott was the Republican standard bearer, he noted. ‘Lott never should have been elected to the U.S. Senate. He got elected through a racist subterfuge, pitting white against Black and Black against Black to divide the Democratic vote.’ Klan elements have firebombed Tisdale’s offices 29 times in the past quarter century, for his advocacy of racial unity and equality.
Lott, struggling to preserve his job, appeared on Black Entertainment Television, telling host Ed Gordon, ‘There has been immoral leadership in my part of the country for a long time.’
He promised to do a ‘better job’ if he stays on as Majority Leader. He endorsed affirmative action to remedy job discrimination, an about-face that ignited fury among ultra-rightists.
The 39-member Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) released a statement Dec. 12 criticizing Bush for waiting a week before speaking out. ‘It is astounding that he has not called for Lott to step aside as incoming majority leader,’ the CBC said.
The CBC scorned Bush’s claim that segregation ‘is a thing of the past,’ adding, ‘we have not eliminated segregation … when Americans of color are more likely to die because of a discriminatory health care system … when American school children of color are less likely to receive an empowering education … when Americans of color are ‘redlined’ out of our dreams of home ownership, when we are ‘racially profiled’ … or when we are unlawfully denied our right to equal opportunity in the workplace and the business world.’
The controversy has wiped the war on Iraq from the front pages and thrown the Bush administration on the defensive. Fearful that the uproar will cost him votes in 2004, Bush went to Philadelphia and criticized Lott but stopped short of demanding he step down. But Sen. Don Nichols (R-Okla.), an extremist who has long lusted for Lott’s job, called for a vote by the Republican Senate Caucus Jan. 6 to remove Lott, not because of racism, but because Lott is so damaged that he will be unable to push through their far-right, anti-people agenda.
Other Republican racists are being exposed, including Attorney General John Ashcroft. In the Southern Partisan in 1998, Ashcroft hailed Confederate leaders as ‘patriots’ even though their treason in defense of slavery cost half a million lives in the Civil War.
As the furor refused to go away, Bush shifted again, ordering his chief strategist Karl Rove to find some way to force Lott out, which is ticklish because they fear Lott may resign his senate seat, as GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) did. Mississippi’s Democratic governor would presumably name a Democrat to replace Lott, reducing the GOP Senate majority to one.
Many organizations called for Lott’s resignation. The AFL-CIO said Lott’s pro-segregation statements ‘were shockingly out of step with the fundamental values of American society and unacceptable for a national leader. An individual who could make those statements cannot lead the United States Senate.’
NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said, ‘Lott’s statement is the kind of callous, calculated, hateful bigotry that has no place in the halls of Congress.’
People for the American Way (PFAW) initiated an online petition to both Bush and Senators urging that Lott be ousted. PFAW President Ralph Neas pointed out that Lott voted against the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday and against extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He cast the lone Senate vote last year against confirming Judge Roger Gregory, the first African American ever seated on the 4th U.S. Court of Appeals.
Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, said this party ‘sounds like a toast to the ‘good old white boys.’ Lott clearly yearns for a time before women and people of color crashed the party.’
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