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Lott Under Fire

December 13, 2002 at 12:00 AM EST
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SEN. TRENT LOTT: Let me be clear. Segregation and racism are immoral. I feel very strongly about my faith. I grew up in a local church here. I actively participated. And as I’ve grown older, I have come to realize more and more if you feel strongly about that, you cannot in any way support discrimination, unfairness for anybody. It’s just not consistent with the police chiefs that I feel so strongly about. I’ve seen what that type of thing in the past can do to families, to schools and the communities. I’ve seen personally the destruction it’s brought to the lives of good people. I’ve known many of them personally, and I know that there are terrible harms that have come out of that era.

The President was right when he said that every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding principles and our Founding Fathers. I lived through those troubled times in the South, and along with the South, I’ve learned from the mistakes of our past. I’ve asked and I’m asking for forbearance and forgiveness as I continue to learn from my own mistakes, and as I continue to grow and get older. As you get older, you hopefully grow in your views and your acceptance of everybody, both as a person and certainly as a leader.

With regard to my remarks about Strom Thurmond, Senator Thurmond is a friend, he’s a colleague, and if no other reason because he’s 100 years old and still a member of the Senate, he’s legendary, but he came to understand the evil of segregation and the wrongness of his own views, and to his credit, he said as much himself. Last week, I was privileged to join hundreds of others to honor him. It was a lighthearted affair, but my choice of words were totally unacceptable and insensitive, and I apologize for that. Let me make clear, though, in celebrating his life I didn’t mean in any way to suggest that his views of over 50 years ago on segregation were justified or right. It was wrong and immoral then, and it is now. By the time I came to know Strom Thurmond, some 40 years after he ran for President — I knew of him when I was in the House of Representatives. I didn’t really get to know him until I started running for the Senate and moved over to the Senate — he had long since renounced many of the views of the past and the repugnant views he’d had and he made that public himself.

That said, I apologize for opening old wounds and hurting many Americans who feel so deeply in this area. I take full responsibility for my remarks. I can’t say it was prepared remarks. As a matter of fact, I was winging it. I was too much into the moment. But I only hope that people will find it in their heart to forgive me for that grievous mistake on that occasion. To those who believe that I was implying that this dream is for some and not for all, that’s just not true. I apologize to those who got that impression. I work in this state, trying to make sure that all Mississippians have a chance at the American dream. And I will continue to do that as long as I live. In the days and months to come, I will dedicate myself to undo the hurt I’ve caused, and will do all I can to contribute to a society where every American has an opportunity to succeed. As a man of faith and a local church here, I read a bible all my life. I now more fully understand the psalm that says “a broken spirit, a contrite and humbled heart.”

When you’re from Mississippi, and when you are Republican leader, you’ve got an extra burden to make sure you think about every word and every phrase so that it doesn’t convey the wrong impression or hurt people. And so while I was, you know, surprised and– because I was just into the event, I still caused a major problem, and I want to get over that. No Senator has spoken to me about the possibility of me stepping down directly — publicly or privately — certainly not any Republican Senator. A lot of Senators have called to say they’re frankly, they’re praying for me, to offer suggestions and ideas of what we could do to, you know, have something positive come out of all this. But, you know, I’m not about to resign for an accusation for something that I’m not.