- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2002

A black Democratic congressman has emerged as an unlikely defender of embattled Sen. Trent Lott in the lawmaker's effort to remain Republican leader.
Georgia Rep. John Lewis, known for his prominent role in the civil rights movement, accepted Mr. Lott's apologies Monday for a racially divisive statement and refused to join a growing chorus calling for Mr. Lott's ouster.
Mr. Lewis said Republicans will have to decide whether to replace Mr. Lott, but he offered some of the most supportive words on a day Mr. Lott's Republican colleagues seemed to be preparing to remove him for comments boasting of his state's support for the segregationist 1948 presidential campaign of Strom Thurmond.
"I'd like to come down on his side, giving him a chance," Mr. Lewis said. "I'm not one of those calling for him to step down and give up his leadership post. We all make mistakes. We all make blunders. It's very much in keeping with the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence to forgive and move on."
Mr. Lott first tried to call Mr. Lewis on Friday and finally reached him Monday morning. They spoke at length, Mr. Lewis said, about Mr. Lott's plan to create "an agenda that would improve the lot of all minorities in this country."
It would begin with a "reconciliation group," made up of Republicans and Democrats from both houses of Congress, Mr. Lewis said.
Mr. Lewis suggested Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Mr. Lott should join him in March on a tour of several civil rights monuments in the South, including the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., where Mr. Lewis was severely bruised by police batons during the "Bloody Sunday" march of 1965. Although Mr. Lott has offered no firm commitment, Mr. Lewis said he believed he was strongly considering it.
"I don't have any fear he's using me," Mr. Lewis said. "If you can be used for good, for the common good, I don't mind being used."
Although Mr. Lewis said he believes Mr. Lott is sincere in trying to reach out to blacks, he criticized Mr. Lott's decision to speak Monday night on Black Entertainment Television rather than another network with a broader, more multiracial audience.
"You need a much more serious venue," Mr. Lewis said. "Let's just not speak to or listen to black Americans. He needs to speak to white Americans. He needs to speak to the whole of America."

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