- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 15, 2002

LULA, Miss. Standing outside a grocery store in this tiny Delta hamlet, Milton Clemons says he wasn't offended by Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's recent praise of Strom Thurmond.
"I don't think he knew what he said," said Mr. Clemons, 32, a black farmer who has sometimes voted for Mr. Lott. "I think he deserves a second chance."
Mr. Clemons is not alone in backing Mr. Lott. Across Mississippi, a sizable number of black voters have supported the conservative, white Republican whose record on race is under attack.
Coahoma County, where Mr. Clemons lives, is 69 percent black. In 2000, when Mr. Lott ran against a Democrat who was black, Mr. Lott took the county with 52 percent of the vote. And, like Mr. Clemons, at least some black residents have taken the senator's remarks on Mr. Thurmond in stride.
"A lot of times we say something we don't think about until it's been said. Then we try to make amends," said Earl Seldon, 40, a heavy machine operator in Lula.
Henry Espy, brother of former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, is mayor of Clarksdale, the county seat. He says many blacks view Mr. Lott as an effective politician who has improved the state and its historically negative image by increasing agricultural exports, attracting a Nissan plant and creating jobs for shipyard workers on the Gulf Coast.
Mr. Lott has maintained a black base because "he is part of the network that's doing a good job," said Mr. Espy, 59, a black man whose city is 60 percent black.
"When you deliver the services your constituents need to compete with the rest of the nation, you will be re-elected," he said.
Not all black Mississippians have supported Mr. Lott, now or before his comments about Mr. Thurmond. They complain about his voting record against extending the Voting Rights Act, for example, and against a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
Eating breakfast with friends at the McDonald's in Clarksdale, U.S. Postal Service retiree William A. McDougal, 83, sums up the sentiments of the men at his table.
"What he said the other day was what he felt," Mr. McDougal said to a chorus of nods. "I don't think he has that many African-American supporters. I know I've never voted for him."

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