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On this date in 2002, Trent Lott, a white-American Republican senator from Mississippi, resigned as Senate majority leader.
Lott's tumble followed a tribute he gave earlier at Senator Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party. The Mississippian hailed the respected South Carolinian and said he thought the nation would have been better off if Thurmond had won his presidential campaign in 1948. Thurmond ran as a Dixiecrat at the time on a segregationist platform.
At the Thurmond birthday party, Lott said: “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.”
The remarks drew immediate criticism from Black leaders and Democrats. They were quickly joined by conservatives worried that the comments would create distracting publicity that would harm the White House's and GOP's efforts to advance their legislative agenda. Lott initially attempted to stomp out the controversy with a short press release and telephone interviews on radio and television; it began to spin out of control after President Bush issued a forceful denunciation of his remarks two weeks later.
After his colleagues openly lined up against him, he bowed to the political pressure and the Bush White House. Lott had been the Senate GOP leader for six years since 1996, when Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., left the Senate to devote full time to his unsuccessful presidential bid.