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Lewis: Lott deserves a second chance

Rep. John Lewis
Rep. John Lewis

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(CNN) -- While many civil rights leaders have called for incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's resignation, Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, has expressed a willingness to forgive remarks some people considered racist and for which the Mississippi Republican has repeatedly apologized. Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement who was severely beaten during the 1961 Freedom Rides, spoke Tuesday to CNN anchor Judy Woodruff from Park City, Utah.

WOODRUFF: Congressman Lewis, a number of civil rights leaders are saying Trent Lott should go, he should resign his leadership position, some even say resign from the Senate. You're prepared to give him a second chance. Why?

LEWIS: Well, I'm not prepared to suggest that he should step down or that he should go, leave the Congress. It is not my call. That decision should be made by his colleagues in the Senate, and especially his Republican colleagues.

It is very much in keeping with the philosophy and the discipline on nonviolence to forgive people. When someone issues an apology and asks you to forgive them, you forgive them. We forgave [Alabama] Governor [George] Wallace. We forgave [Birmingham police chief] Bull Connor. We had the capacity and the ability to forgive Sheriff [James] Clark [of Selma]. I don't have any malice or ill feeling toward the people that beat me and jailed me during the '60s. So why should I feel bitter or hostile toward a colleague of mine in the Congress?

WOODRUFF: So you believe he is genuine when he says that his comments in praising Strom Thurmond [by recalling his presidential campaign] in 1948, those comments were repugnant and how he now renounces them?

LEWIS: I think he's real. I think he'd like to find a way to compensate, to make up. In my telephone conversation with him, he said he had hurt a lot of people and caused a lot of damage, and he wanted to find a way to make up, to build a greater sense of community. And that's what the movement was all about, bringing people together. You don't do that by continuing to tear people down: You find a way to build people up. If people can lay down the path and come together and work together for the common good, I'm all for that.

WOODRUFF: He said in this interview on Black Entertainment Television last night that he is for affirmative action. One of your colleagues in the Congress, Representative Gregory Meeks -- he's in the Congressional Black Caucus -- says those "remarks and what he said, that he is for affirmative action, that was almost laughable ... when you look at his voting record."

LEWIS: His voting record is not anything to be proud of when it comes to affirmative action, comes to voting for Martin Luther King's birthday as a holiday, voting to extend the Voting Rights Act. But I think he's learned, and hopefully he's grown. You know, sometimes, Judy, you have to be baptized, and sometimes people are baptized by fire, and sometimes by water. And it is my hope that Senator Lott has learned from his mistakes and from his blunders.

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