For King, Lott Should Kiss Off Supremacists

By Cynthia Tucker
Editorial Page Editor, The Atlanta Constitution
Sunday, January 17, 1999

Strange as it may seem, there are still dark corners of America where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is considered a Communist, an insurrectionist, a traitor. One such peculiar quarter comprises the Web sites of the Council of Conservative Citizens -- a white separatist group -- and its ideological brethren.

Despite all the progress we've made toward racial equality, it isn't surprising to find the odd white-separatist or supremacist group here and there, spouting an ideology of saving the white race from "dark forces." Fringe lunacy can never be eliminated. What's surprising -- and disturbing -- is that the Council of Conservative Citizens can claim the ear of such political luminaries as Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.

Both Lott and U.S. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), each of whom has been a keynote speaker at council functions, have steadfastly denied supporting the council's ideology. In fact, they both deny knowing what the council stood for when they spoke at its meetings.

But that's hard to believe, especially in Lott's case. The council has deep roots in Lott's home state of Mississippi, where it traces its ancestry to the old segregationist White Citizens Council, which some historians consider to have been an upscale version of the Ku Klux Klan. Arnie Watson, Lott's uncle and a member of the council, says his nephew is "an honorary member" of the organization.

If that is so, the nation's highest-ranking senator keeps company with a group that believes the greatest threat to America is "race-mixing" and immigration, an organization that speaks fondly of the Confederacy and its goals, an organization that holds the civil rights movement and its leaders in contempt.

As a native of the great state of Mississippi, as a man old enough to remember the terrible days of segregation and as the leader of the U.S. Senate, Lott ought to know better than to truck with such a group. But sometimes, it seems, the political advantages of playing to racists and racist bigotry outweigh what we are taught by education and experience.

Lott, at 57, knows what a backwater the Old South had been before the civil rights movement brought the region into the nation's mainstream. Much of the South, white and black, was poor, ignorant and diseased. That goes double for Mississippi.

If anything, Lott and his peers in the proud leadership of a New South owe a great debt of gratitude to King and the civil rights movement that he led. The booming Sun Belt, the stronghold of the Republican Party, is a place of shining prosperity and newfound educational and technological attainment only because it was forced to abandon the legalized racism that had been the cornerstone of its culture.

Does Lott think for one minute that the big national casino companies would be attracted to his home state if it still practiced Jim Crow? Would Atlanta have attracted the 1996 Olympic Games if it could not have sold itself to the world as a city of cooperation across racial lines? Would the big German carmakers locate in South Carolina and Alabama if black children were still relegated to segregated schools and shut out of its major universities?

If the speeches and commentary to be found on the Web sites of the Council of Conservative Citizens and its member chapters are any indication, its members envision a nation made perfect by the complete domination of "Christian" whites -- a Valhalla. In reality, the twisted ideology it espouses can only lead to ethnic warfare and economic ruin. The results of that approach are obvious in places such as Bosnia, Rwanda and Chechnya.

That's what Lott ought to tell the council the next time he makes a speech before the group. Of course, they'll revoke his membership.

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