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[Power of the tongue]


At a birthday party for Strom Thurmond, Senator Trent Lott was paying tribute to the man, and he made this statement, "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." Now, at first no one made anything of his comments. The national papers and the television news programs didn’t pick up the story. But then people remembered that when Strom Thurmond ran for president in 1948, it was on a segregationist platform of wanting to keep the races separate. And the "problems" Mr. Lott was apparently referring to had another name – the Civil Rights Movement. So it appeared that he was expressing a fondness for segregation, a nostalgia for the days when whites and blacks were unequal in American society. And when that settled into the national consciousness, what a firestorm erupted, from all sides. Right, left; conservative, liberal; Republican, Democrat. Everyone denounced what he had said. Now, Senator Lott denied being a segregationist. He was just honoring an old man, he said. But it made no difference. He apologized, several times. He went on BET, the Black Entertainment Television network, and there he proclaimed his support for affirmative action. He renounced racism. He renounced his own statement. But none of it had any effect. His words had provoked such a strong reaction in many people that nothing would satisfy them, short of Lott resigning from the leadership of the Senate. And so that’s what he finally did.

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