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Trent Lott Was Right

February 19, 2010
Charles G. Mills
2/16/2010

Recently disclosed awkward remarks by the Senate majority leader have called attention to the statement that cost Senator Trent Lott the majority leadership. At the 100th birthday party of Senator Strom Thurmond, Lott said that if Thurmond had been elected president, we would not have had some of the problems we did. It is often said that Lott’s remark was harmless because it was just a birthday party courtesy. This is a feeble justification for a remark that should be justified because it was perfectly true.

Senator Thurmond was the States Rights Party candidate for president in 1948. The South of 1948 was not at all like the embattled South of later years when the desegregation battles were fought. Opinion on segregation was much more divided than it would be 10 years later. The anti-segregationist James Folsom was serving his first term as governor of Alabama. Cities across the South were congratulating themselves on hiring their first black police officers. The South was looking forward optimistically to a friendly national commemoration of the centennial of the War Between the States in 1960-65. The “massive resistance” South was not created until Eisenhower sent federal troops into Arkansas.

Both the Republican and Democratic Parties were divided between Liberals and Conservatives. By 1948, Conservatives in the Democratic Party were largely limited to Southerners. Republican Conservatives were strongest in the Midwest. At the 1948 Democratic Convention, a group of extreme Liberals led by Hubert Humphrey conducted a floor fight that led to the adoption of a minority plank in the platform that called for legislation against private racial discrimination, federalization of the laws against racial violence, and an immediate end to all segregation. Segregation was common then, not only south of the Ohio River but as far North and west as Kansas.

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