Ole Miss is struggling to find its identity in the modern world, and enshrining racists should have no place in that process.
After it was dragged kicking and screaming into desegregation in the 1960s, the university has endured many controversies and conflicts all stemming from the university’s racist past and the artifacts honoring it, including the Confederate statue that was recently moved from the Circle to the university’s Confederate Cemetery, also on campus.
The university’s recent efforts to recognize its racist past and remove its symbols are commendable, but this work must be continued. There is so much work to be done, to the point where even the name “Ole Miss” has been highly discussed, as it is a term slaves would use for the wife of the plantation owner. Nevertheless, Ole Miss must sever its ties with the racist ideas and sentiments of the past and embrace new ideals of diversity and equality. It must stop enshrining bigots and racists and instead shine light on its heroes, such as James Meredith and Don Cole.
Part of that work includes changing the name of the Trent Lott Leadership Institute. Named after the prominent Mississippi senator and 2001 Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, the institute was funded in 1999 by several multinational corporations, including Lockheed Martin.
If Ole Miss wants to continue to atone for its association with segregation politics and racism, it needs to sever its ties with Trent Lott as well.
Trent Lott spent his college years at the University of Mississippi as a Sigma Nu, also serving as president of the university’s Interfraternity Council (IFC). When Sigma Nu chapters in the Northeast brought up the issue of desegregation in their national convention, Trent Lott staunchly supported prohibiting Black students from joining. After the Southern chapters threatened a walk out, the rest of the Sigma Nus gave in — Trent Lott had gotten his way, and Sigma Nu chapters nationwide remained segregated.
In his years as a senator, Lott was a member and supporter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (often called the “uptown Klan”), an identified white supremacist organization that “oppose[s] all efforts to mix the races of mankind.” Trent Lott successfully blocked a congressional resolution condemning the racist group, claiming that its proponents were simply being too lenient with what they deemed racist. He was also a keynote speaker at one of the group’s national executive board meetings and even invited leaders of the “uptown Klan” to his Washington office.
The biggest controversy of his career, however, is what led him to step down from the Senate Majority Leader position. Strom Thurmond, a prominent segregationist senator from South Carolina, and Trent Lott were admitted friends. At Thurmond’s 100th birthday party, Lott gave a speech in which he lamented the fact that Thurmond had lost his (segregationist and incredibly racist) 1948 presidential bid, saying the country would be a better place if he had won. He later said that he did not mean to support Thurmond’s policies and that Thurmond himself had already renounced his racist views — a blatant lie. Thurmond never in his life publicly renounced segregation.
Trent Lott’s career as a politician, since its beginning, was dedicated to ensuring the interests of white supremacists and racists nationwide and as such, his name should be scrubbed from the University of Mississippi. A campus struggling to atone for its past transgressions, a campus trying to preserve the lessons learned through the horrors of racial segregation, has no room left to enshrine racist politics.
The Trent Lott Leadership Institute needs to change its name, both for the students of the University of Mississippi and to build a new Ole Miss, an Ole Miss that doesn’t honor racism and enshrine bigots.
Hal Fox is a sophomore majoring in Chinese and international studies from Robert, LA.