With Trent Lott selection, GOP embraces old South
November 21, 2006
The selection of Trent Lott as Senate minority whip removes any illusion that the Republican Party has even the faintest commitment to racial justice.
In recent years, the GOP had hinted that it wanted to reform its longstanding reputation among African-Americans as a racist organization. But the appointment of Lott as whip suggests quite the opposite.
In fact, it's a slap in the face to all Americans who embrace the spirit of the civil rights movement and the greater inclusion it celebrated.
The controversy comes after Lott, in toasting the late Strom Thurmond at a birthday party in 2002, remarked: "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of him. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead (in 1948), we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."
Thurmond, and the States' Rights Democratic Party he helped to form in 1948, not only opposed integration. He even opposed a federal anti-lynching law.
At the time, Thurmond said: "All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the negro into our homes, our schools, our churches."
The nostalgia Lott expressed was apparently for a more divided and unequal America.
It is no surprise, then, that many African-Americans are offended at the appointment of Lott as whip.
His record is also cause for concern.
Lott voted to cut funding on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in 1994.
He opposed continuation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act -- two hallmark pieces of civil rights legislation -- when the renewal bills came before Congress in 1990.
He even called for honoring the president of the pro-slavery Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, with posthumous restored citizenship status in 1978.
And Lott has been associated with the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have documented as being a direct outgrowth of the white supremacists of the White Citizens' Councils of the 1950s and '60s -- groups that violently opposed equal rights for African-Americans. Lott has spoken at the Council of Conservative Citizens' events.
In elevating Lott to a new leadership post, Republicans are sending a disturbing message to Americans. They are honoring those old Southern traditions steeped in hatred, racial divisiveness, segregation and pro-slavery symbolism.
In the 21st century, even the Republican Party should be ashamed of such associations.
Barbara Ransby is an associate professor in the Department of African American Studies and History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is the author of the award-winning biography "Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision" (UNC Press, 2003). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.