Media glossed over new Senate minority whip Trent Lott's pro-segregation, anti-civil rights past

In reporting on Sen. Trent Lott's (R-MS) November 15 election as Senate minority whip, several print media outlets noted that Lott had made a “comeback” after stepping down from the Senate leadership in 2002 over remarks he made at then-Sen. Strom Thurmond's (R-SC) birthday party praising Thurmond's 1948 pro-segregation presidential campaign, but failed to note that Lott's 2002 remarks were just the most recent in a pattern of public statements and actions that were attacked as racially insensitive and, in several cases, as indicating support for racist entities.

Reporting on Lott's election on November 16, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal noted simply that Lott, at Thurmond's 100th birthday party on December 5, 2002, said of Thurmond's 1948 campaign: “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 had all these problems over all these years, either.” A November 16 Los Angeles Times editorial, however, noted that Lott has “a credibility problem on issues of race,” adding: “For example, when the Internal Revenue Service moved in 1981 to yank the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because it prohibited interracial dating, Lott defended the school's position on religious freedom grounds.”

As Media Matters for America has noted, there are numerous other examples of “racially insensitive” statements and actions by Lott. A December 13, 2002, Scripps Howard News Service article documented the reasons that both Democrats and Republicans blasted Lott for his apparent endorsement of segregationist policies:

In 1982, Lott voted against the extension of the Voting Rights Act, which authorizes the Justice Department to review election law changes in Mississippi and other Deep South states and to monitor elections.

In 1983, he was one of 90 House members who voted against creating a national holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Six years later, Lott was one of seven senators who voted to abolish the King holiday commission, and in 1994, he was one of 28 who favored scrapping its federal funding.

Lott was one of 34 senators who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1990, which reversed five Supreme Court rulings that had limited the ability of minorities to win job discrimination lawsuits and damages. After President George H. W. Bush vetoed the bill, Lott voted for a different version in 1991.

And in 2001, Lott was the only senator who opposed President George W. Bush's nomination of Roger Gregory, an African-American from Virginia, to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.


In 1999, when Lott was embroiled in another racial controversy, he had only one African-American worker, a mail clerk, out of a staff of 65.

In 1981, Lott filed a brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit seeking to overturn an IRS decision to deny a tax exemption to Bob Jones University because of the school's ban on interracial dating.

In 1995, Lott criticized Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) for intervening with 39 other lawmakers to get the FBI to release documents in the 1966 death of civil rights activist Vernon Dahmer to Forrest County prosecutors.

In 1999, it was reported that Lott had spoken to and met with the segregationist Council of Concerned Citizens on a few occasions. Lott then condemned the group.

Last year, Lott and the other white members of the Mississippi congressional delegation refused an entreaty from former Netscape president James Barksdale to declare that they would vote in favor of a statewide referendum to remove the Confederate emblem from the state flag. The proposal lost.

A December 13, 2002, Knight Ridder article reported:

In Washington, Lott worked from 1968 to 1972 as an aide to Rep. William Colmer, a powerful Mississippi Democrat who had advocated segregation. When Colmer retired, Lott ran for and won his seat as a Republican in 1972.

In 1981, the Justice Department threatened to block efforts by the city of Jackson, Miss., to annex suburbs, because the addition of mostly white suburban voters would dilute the political strength of black voters, and thus would violate the Voting Rights Act. Lott objected in a letter and the Justice Department dropped its opposition.

That same year, Lott filed a “friend of the court” brief with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals objecting to the Internal Revenue Service's decision to deny a tax exemption to Bob Jones University because the Christian school banned interracial dating.

“Racial discrimination does not always violate public policy,” the brief argued. “If racial discrimination in the interest of diversity does not violate public policy, then surely discrimination in the practice of religion is no violation.”

Lott argued that many religious schools in his district would be threatened with lost tax exemptions.


Lott has also been linked to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that grew out of the segregationist White Citizens' Council of the 1960s. He was quoted in a CCC newsletter as telling the group in 1992 that “the people in this room stand for the right principles and the right philosophy. Let's take it in the right direction, and our children will be the beneficiaries.”

Lott said Wednesday that the meeting was an open political forum that attracted numerous elected officials. He has said in the past that he was not aware of the group's segregationist history. He appears with four CCC leaders in a 1997 photograph; one of the people in the photo was William Lord, a former regional director for the White Citizens' Council who had served as a county chairman in one of Lott's political campaigns.