|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. -- Trent Lott, December 5, 2002
- Douglas Brinkley
- Robert Dallek
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Speaking on Fox News 12/9/02
BRINKLEY: Well, there's no need for Trent Lott to resign over it, and he's made an apology, but it was a very wrong-headed thing to say. I mean, the problem is that people don't know their history. And what he's referring to really, Trent Lott, is, Strom Thurmond back in 1948 created the Dixiecrat Party. He broke away from Truman. And the Dixiecrats were a group of people that wanted states' rights forever and also segregation forever. They went out as a platform to say all of the laws of Washington, D.C., and all of the bayonets in the U.S. Army will never force the Negro into the homes, the schools, and the churches of whites in this country. And he ended up winning over a million votes for president, Strom Thurmond. He actually carried the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Alabama. And at that point, Thurmond became the great rallying cry for white supremacists in the South.
BILL O'REILLY: OK. Let me stop you there. Isn't -- it's worse than just being a segregationist, though, for Senator Thurmond, who I have no use for, by the way, at all, none, ever. He was a person who felt blacks -- who feels, I think, blacks are inferior, correct?
BRINKLEY: Absolutely. He has a long career of stating things of that nature.
O'REILLY: All right, now, if Lott is there, and I, you know, I don't think Trent Lott is a malicious man. I mean, I think he was just pandering to the audience. That's what it looked like to me.
BRINKLEY: The problem is, Bill, though, it's not just pandering, which it was that. He does this periodically. You know, he's been pushing in the South to have Jefferson Davis, you know, his citizenship reinstated. He tries -- constantly finds himself in these sort of Confederate fights. In 1992, he visited a Mississippi town which was a White Citizen's Council of states' rights people, and...
O'REILLY: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), you don't think Trent Lott is a racist, do you?
BRINKLEY: Yes, I do.
O'REILLY: Do you really?
BRINKLEY: Yes, I do. I think there's degrees of it, and I think he may not consider himself one. But I think his career record of seeming to not realize why, as he's not just Trent Lott, he's the Senate majority leader, he represents the Republican Party, and I think most Republicans are aghast at this message. ...the problem is that pragmatic side of him, he drops the ball sometimes because he can't help himself on issues about the Confederacy. You have to realize, when he was Ole Miss back in the '60's, he didn't -- he fought tooth and nail and tooth and claw not to have James Meredith integrate Ole Miss.
ROBERT DALLEK: Speaking on NPR 12/9/02
ROBERT SIEGEL:When US Senator Strom Thurmond was 46 years old, it was 1948. Thurmond was a Democrat and so was the man in the White House, Harry Truman. Thurmond ran against Truman as the candidate of the States' Rights Party and carried four Southern states by campaigning in defense of racial segregation. His best showing was in Mississippi, where he took 87 percent of the popular vote.
DALLEK: ... Truman, in 1947, endorsed a report from the Civil Rights Commission called To Secure These Rights, and it attacked lynching in the South, it attacked the poll tax, which denied African-Americans the right to vote, and in general attacked segregation. And so the right wing in the Democratic Party, these Deep South politicians, including Strom Thurmond and the governor of Mississippi and the governor of Alabama, said, 'Let's break with this Democratic Party. It doesn't represent us fairly anymore, and we're going to set up our own party, the States' Rights Party,' and they were standing for segregation. ...
SIEGEL: Is it fair simply to say that the 1948 campaign was a racist campaign by...
DALLEK: Oh, I think it's very fair to say that because they, in a sense, saw the handwriting on the wall that the federal government was going to begin to move against this apartheid system, which embarrassed the United States before the world, because after all, we were locked in a Cold War with the Soviet Union by this point, and the Soviets kept attacking us as a racist society and, of course, in the South it was. So they saw what was coming and they wanted to dig in their heels and fight this tooth and nail.
SIEGEL: It's rare to hear in the modern South any politician, as Trent Lott did in that little birthday congratulations, lamenting the defeat of the Dixiecrats in 1948.
Mr. DALLEK: Yes, yes. After all, Trent Lott is a public figure. He's the majority leader of the United States Senate beginning in January, a Republican spokesman, and for him to have said that, I think is, again, an embarrassment to this country and around the world, because it endorses the old policy of segregation. Didn't he understand that? You know, Trent Lott might have said at this birthday celebration, 'Isn't it marvelous that Strom Thurmond, he grew older and he came to see the need for a change in outlook, and so he broke with his old segregationist past.' But to celebrate him as a segregationist in '48, I'm frankly mystified by this statement.
SIEGEL: Thurmond did, in fact, break with his past to some extent.
DALLEK: He did. Yes.
SIEGEL: I mean, he may have broken only after the cause was lost...
SIEGEL: ...but he did break with it.
DALLEK: As George Wallace did. They understood that the political reality had changed, and also, they wanted black votes, which became very important, as we just saw in the election in Louisiana, which probably decided the election on behalf of Mary Landrieu and the Democrats.
NPR: Thurmond's Retirement from the Senate