Revolutionary Worker #1180, December 22, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org
In 1948, Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina ran for President on a Dixiecrat ticket. Their campaign was motivated by racist opposition to a federal anti-lynching law and other talk of reform.
Thurmond used to roar at the top of his lungs:
"All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our swimming pools and our churches."
His election platform read:
"We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race."
It is now fifty years later.
This hateful old racist, Strom Thurmond, is finally about to retire from the Senate after 46 years. At a party of Thurmond's fellow senators and supporters, held in the official Senate building, Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi stepped to the podium and declared:
"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 all these problems over all these years, either."
People are furious over these remarks. These words didn't come from just any senator or congressman: Trent Lott is one the most powerful figures in the government. And he is about to become the top leader of the Senate again, when his Republican majority gets sworn in this January.
Many people are asking the obvious question: What exactly are "all these problems over all these years" that Lott thinks a segregationist president might have prevented? Things like Black people using the same public bathrooms as whites? Or Black kids entering major colleges? Mixed marriages or white kids listening to hip-hop? Black people voting or being on juries?
Here we are, in 2002, at the end of Strom Thurmond's ugly career--and at his retirement party, in the heart of the capital, the torch of open white supremacy gets held high and passed on.
Trent Lott first tried to pooh-pooh the rising controversy by saying his praise of Thurmond was just a "light-hearted" moment.
Asked about Lott's remark, President Bush's spokesman Ari Fleischer said: "The president looks forward to having an enjoyable day celebrating a distinguished senator's 100th birthday. And many people have spoken on the floor of the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans alike, in praise of Senator Thurmond. And I think this is a day in 2002 to celebrate Senator Thurmond's 100th birthday with pride."
Outrage grew. So Lott was forced to say he apologized to anyone who was "offended." He also tried to justify himself by saying, "My comments were not an endorsement of his positions of over 50 years ago, but of the man and his life."
Senate Republican leader Ron Bonjean issued a formal statement supporting this explanation: "Senator Lott's remarks were intended to pay tribute to a remarkable man who led a remarkable life.
All this raised more questions : What does it mean when top leaders of the U.S. "celebrate," "pay tribute to," and give an "endorsement" of Strom Thurmond the man and his vicious racist life? And that the President himself does so "with pride"?!
The Democrats and Republicans are so deep into "cooperation"--especially over the U.S. attacks on other countries--that not a single leading Democratic senator criticized Lott until after the controversy erupted around them. At first, Lott's Democratic counterpart, Sen. Tom Daschle, actually rushed to defend Lott, saying: "There are a lot of times when he and I go to the mike and would like to say things we meant to say differently, and I'm sure this is one of those cases for him as well."
But meanwhile, it became clear that Lott had said exactly what he believes: In November 1980, at a Mississippi political rally, after Thurmond had made a fiery speech backing Ronald Reagan, then-congressman Lott told the crowd: "You know, if we had elected this man 30 years ago, we wouldn't be in the mess we are today." In 1992, Lott told a meeting of the Klan-like racist organization, the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC): "The people in this room stand for the right principles and the right philosophy." He is quoted at several places in his career saying that the figure he "feels closest to" in American history is Jefferson Davis--the Confederate leader who led the slaveowners in war. It even came out that when Lott was a college student back in the 1960s, he led a fight to keep Black students out of his Sigma Nu fraternity.
In other words, Lott's recent remarks are no mistake. This is a long-time defender of white supremacy who has worked to lead and rally today's white racist forces--from high within the government and the Republican party.
Jim Crow segregation was defeated long ago--in the intense struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. It is no longer considered acceptable, even in the South, for officials to publicly and openly defend the old forms of white supremacy. But apparently these days reactionaries are so puffed up that Lott felt safe to let it hang out in front of the microphones in the Senate building itself.
As outrage has spread, pressure has mounted for Lott to resign. His former supporters, allies and colleagues have backed away. President Bush went on television to distance himself from any nostalgia for Jim Crow segregation--though he did not openly calling for Lott's resignation.
Many in the power structure are asking: Won't it hurt the political system, if one of us keeps his top post after letting his racism hang out too publicly? Isn't it necessary for Lott to go, so the Republican Party and the current government don't all look totally like racist pigs?
Some Republicans have pointed out that the prominent Democratic Senator Robert Byrd used the word "n*gger" (twice!) in a recent TV interview--and that Republicans had not made a "big deal" out of it. They complain that forcing Lott to resign violates the long-standing practice of covering up such statements by the powerful. And they wonder who among them would be safe, and who might be next.
After all, the power structure is full of people whose racism is notorious. For example, Attorney General John Ashcroft (the man in charge of federal prosecutions, civil rights enforcement and the growing police powers), is famous for praising slave-owning Confederate leaders like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. Another example: Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist first participated in politics as a "poll watcher" to harass Black and Latino voters during Arizona elections in the 1950s.
All of this leads us to ask some questions of our own: What kind of a system gives great power to well-known racists like Trent Lott or John Ashcroft? What kind of a system gives a stone-to-the-bone white supremacist like Strom Thurmond powerful political posts for 74 years--and then openly celebrates his life as he crumbles away? What kind of future can people expect from a system where such men hold power?
And, most important, when can we finally overthrow them all? When can we sweep these outdated, creepy monsters from the stage--and finally get on to the business of ending the mistreatment of Black people forever?!
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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