Cross Burning, Trent Lott and the

Living Legacy of Racist Terror

by Mat Callahan
Dissident Voice

December 13, 2002



It is worthy of note that the same week in which cross burning is being defended as free speech before the Supreme Court of the United States, protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, Trent Lott is celebrating White Supremacy (and then apologizing, sort of). It should be mentioned that Clarence Thomas, the only black member of the US Supreme Court, decried cross burning as symbolic of a "reign of terror" and "100 years of lynching".Nevertheless, Lott's remarks are being criticized and cross burning will likely be condemned only in the most polite and limited terms.This compounds the crimes which the Ku Klux Klan and Lott are guilty of committing and defending.


First, this is not a matter of free speech at all.This is a matter of bringing to justice those who committed thousands of lynchings over many generations, those who profited from the theft of the property of Black people driven from their homes, businesses and farms, those whose entire political careers have been built on the effective suppression of the demands for civil rights on the part of all disenfranchised groups within the United States, but particularly African Americans.Trent Lott is a rich white man from Mississippi.His heritage is the slavocracy.Their descendants are the "WE" he said would have been better off had America elected Strom Thurmond President on the segregationist ticket in 1948.The irony that the political winds twisted in such a way as to make the Republican Party the representative of the very people defeated in the Civil War should not be lost on those interested in justice in the present and future.Party of Lincoln, indeed.It is now the party of John Wilkes Booth and Nathan Bedford Forrest (a founder of the Klan).


The South may be different today. If it is, it is because there were decades of militant struggle against redneck crackers like Lott and Thurmond and George Wallace and John Stennis and the rest of that gang of closet Klansmen.Why are these people treated with anything but the contempt they deserve?Why are they not put in the same category as Hitler and Mussolini? What is the significant difference.Hitler burned Jews.Lott's ilk lynched blacks.The Third Reich was defeated in a war.The Confederacy was defeated in a war.Lott may not have personally participated in such activity but neither did most Germans directly participate in Auschwitz or Belsen.Yet the Swastika is a banned symbol in Germany and reparations are still being paid to the descendants of the victims of the Holocaust.Where can a black person go to assert a claim to a farm or house that was stolen from them through racist terror?Ever heard Billie Holiday sing "Strange Fruit"?


Fortunately, many writers, musicians, film makers and other artists have steadily and continuously devoted their work to illuminating this horrible episode in American history.The nonsense Lott spews in his defense will not wash with a great many Americans.This is important to keep in mind when hearing only the "official story" as reported in the mainstream media.


The question arises, however, is this episode really over?Did the Civil Rights Movement and all the legislation enacted as a result of its efforts actually break the power of White Supremacists once and for all?I think not. If it had, Lott could never make the statements he has made, Thurmond could never have remained in office, issues such as the Constitution of the State of Alabama prohibiting interracial marriage or the South Carolina State Flag bearing the symbol of the Confederacy would be dead by now.The travesty of the Florida elections of 2000 and 2002 hearken back to one of the original purposes of the KKK which was to prevent the

enfranchisement of newly emancipated Black people.(Thurmond, Lott's mentor,was directly responsible for the promulgation of the Jim Crow laws that legalized what the terror enforced. These remained in effect until 1964.)And the Christian Coalition, among other right wing "religious" groups based mainly in the South, is essentially white supremacist in composition and general outlook.They have honed their rhetoric to sound a bit less "old fashioned".But it is nonetheless bigoted for all of that. These are the forces that dominate talk radio and much other public debate. These are the voices that claim to be patriotic Americans.There can be no polite, dispassionate discussion about or with such individuals or groups. Theirs is a legacy of terror an cruelty and it lives on in the words and deeds of people like Trent Lott.


This is not, however, all there is to say about this matter.A politician of Lott's experience did not just "make a little slip".His was a statement made to his core constituents at a testimonial for Thurmond.It was a calculated test of the political climate. Lott decided he had the clout to make the statement, weather any storm it might arouse and, with a little backpedaling, situate himself in what is called "mainstream" discourse-a discourse that has quietly accepted cross burning and racism as "free speech" worthy of serious consideration.If there is not a storm of protest over these remarks that punishes Lott directly and threatens his cronies with a loss of political power then he will get away with it and Black people will pay a real price in real life in America.These people must be held accountable for their past but also for their present.They hypocritically apologize for "possibly offending" people with what they really think.What they really think is that the South was better off segregated, with white supremacy enshrined in law and enforced by terror.


Why not bring back slavery?

Mat Callahan is an award winning musician, composer, producer, and community activist living in Bern, Switzerland. Mat performed with Prairie Fire and the Looters. He is the author of Testimony (Freedom Voices Press, 2000) and Sex, Death and the Angry Young Man (Times Change Press, 1991). Visit Matís website: