EVEN THOUGH he has resigned as Senate majority leader, Trent Lott left behind a most curious statement that no one in the Republican Party dared touch, hoping it would die along with Lott's departure. At the end of his prepared statement he read to the press in Mississippi to apologize for his warm remarks for Strom Thurmond's 1948 presidential campaign, Lott said:
''One final point. The next step to make sure that these are not just words here today is I am talking to and working with African-American leaders like Roy Innis of the Congress of Racial Equality and Bob Johnson of Black Entertainment Television. And in that vein, we are working to get the final agreement on a time next week - early next week - when, for a full hour, I will talk about my hopes and dreams for the people in this state and this country regardless of their race and to make sure that African-Americans have the opportunities that they deserve.''
Talk about racial schizophrenia. It was understandable that Lott or anyone on this planet would want talk to Johnson, who is so rich he just became the first African-American majority owner of a major professional sports franchise.
Roy Innis is a completely different and bizarre story. The fact that his name was the first one off Lott's lips in his some-of-my-favorite-friends-are routine should have resulted in one loud ''Huh?''
While Lott was driven off the stage for his romanticism of segregation, Innis long ago called for separation of the races and launched vicious attacks on civil rights groups. In 1970 he advocated resegregating black and white school districts in the South on the claim that integration had failed. Innis was quoted that year as saying: ''We are no longer in the integration bag. We have restructured our approach. White folks don't want integration ... and black folks don't want it either.''
The next year, Innis followed up that statement by saying, ''There must be two contracts negotiated between the black people of America and white America - one for the nationalists and another for the integrationists. Integrationists have an entirely different goal. It is well known. It is recognized. It may be right for them, but it should not be foisted upon us. Both groups must be permitted to pursue their own programs and must be accorded the dignity of equal recognition.''
Innis said, ''In America today, there are two kinds of black people - the field hand blacks and the `house niggers.' We of CORE, the nationalists - are the field hand blacks. The integrationists are house niggers.''
So this is whom Lott has been listening to, providing the unspoken background when fellow Republican senators looked to Lott for leadership on civil rights issues, almost all of which Lott and many other conservative Republicans voted against. Funny how folks get all up in arms about Harry Belafonte recently calling Secretary of State Colin Powell a house slave for President Bush, but when Lott dropped Innis's name, there was no scurrying around by the media to remind us how that Innis wanted to return us to the plantation.
Since the early 1970s, Innis has gone on to be a nutcase on many issues. He befriended Idi Amin, the butcher president of Uganda. He befriended Jonas Savimbi, the leader of forces in the Angolan civil war backed by then apartheid South Africa and the United States. He said sportscaster Jimmy ''The Greek'' Snyder ''spoke the truth'' when Snyder was fired for saying that black athletes were better because of slave breeding.
He defended vigilante subway shooter Bernhard Goetz, even though Goetz, in defending himself with a handgun against four apparent muggers, went way over the line by shooting one boy until he was paralyzed. Despite the horrific black-on-black murder rates in the Washington, D.C., area, Innis tried to help the National Rifle Association overturn a Maryland ban against cheap handguns. Innis said, ''Cheap handguns should be viewed as an affordable means of self-defense for poor people.... To make inexpensive guns impossible to get is ... racism in its worst form.''
In 1988, Innis lamented that African-Americans ''are the only major group that was left out the Reagan consensus of 1984 and the Bush consensus of 1988. That has to tell us something.'' Given his own history, it would be an interesting to know what Innis had been telling Lott. Lott lost credibility as a white guy who praised segregation while Innis gained credibility for calling the civil rights community the N-word. If Innis pops up again as a trusted adviser for a Republican, that really might tell us something.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company