Lott: Apology No. 4

The Senate's top Republican tries again to persuade America that he's not a closet segregationist.

By Salon Staff
Published December 15, 2002 1:19AM (EST)

[Under pressure from President Bush and other top Republicans, incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott issued his fourth and most humbled apology Friday, asking "forgiveness and forbearance" for remarks last week that seemed to express nostalgia for the days of racial segregation. The remark, made at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, suggested that as one of the four states Thurmond carried in his 1948 presidential run, Mississippi had the right idea regarding separation of the races. "We're proud of it [voting for Thurmond]," he said at the party. "And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years either." The following is the full text of the speech he made Friday at a press conference in his hometown of Pascagoula, Miss.]

Segregation is a stain on our nation's soul. There is no other way to describe it. It represents one of the lowest moments in our nation's history, and we can never forget that.

I grew up with segregation. I grew up in an environment that condoned policies and views that we know were wrong and immoral and I repudiate them.

Let me be clear: Segregation and racism are immoral.

I have seen what it did to families, to schools, and to communities. I have seen personally the destruction it has wrought on the lives of good people. I know personally what it means to talk about the harms of segregation.

The President was right when he said that every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals.

I lived through the troubled times in the South, and along with the South, I have learned from the mistakes of our past.

I have asked and am asking for people's forbearance and forgiveness as I continue to learn from my own mistakes and as I continue to grow as both a person and a leader.

With regard to my remarks about Strom Thurmond: Strom is a friend, a colleague, and conservative who came to understand the evil of segregation and the wrongness of his own views.

He's said as much himself. Last week, I was privileged to join with hundreds of others to honor him.

But let me be clear: In celebrating his life, I did not mean to suggest in any way that his segregationist views of 50 years ago were justified or right. Segregation was immoral then and it is wrong now.

By the time I came to know Strom Thurmond -- 40 years after he ran for President -- Strom himself had long since renounced these repugnant views.

That said, I apologize for reopening old wounds and hurting so many Americans.

I take full responsibility for my remarks and only hope that people will find in their heart to forgive me for this grievous mistake. Not only have I seen the destruction wrought by the racist and immoral policies of the past, I will do everything in my power to ensure that we never go back to that kind of society again.

There may be disagreement on the best ways to ensure that every American of every color has a fair and equal chance at life, but our goals are the same:

1. A colorblind society where every American has an equal opportunity to succeed.

2. An end to entrenched poverty and joblessness that have plagued minority communities.

3. A good education for every child that gives them a real chance for a good life and that rejects the soft racism of low expectations.

4. Strict enforcement of the civil rights laws on the books to guarantee equality and punish racism.

Government does best when it helps people help themselves. Human dignity is found not in a handout but in being able to do for one's self.

Government should be about giving people a real chance to do for themselves. I believe this because I have lived it. My father was a sharecropper and a shipyard worker who only went to the 9th grade and my mother was a public school teacher. I was their only son and the first to earn a graduate degree.

I am humbled by the American dream because I have lived the American dream. To those who believe I was implying that this dream is for some and not for all, I truly apologize.

In the days and months to come, I will dedicate myself to undo the hurt I have caused and will do all that I can to contribute to a society where every American has an equal opportunity to succeed.

As a man of faith, I have read the Bible all of my life. I now fully understand the Psalm that says: "a broken spirit: a contrite and humbled heart."

Salon Staff

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