If you think my title is harsh, take it up with the New York Times, who practically put “racist” on former Senator Strom Thurmond’s (R-SC) tombstone, titling their eulogy “Strom Thurmond, Foe of Integration, Dies at 100.”
The longest filibuster in American history came courtesy of Strom Thurmond, when he ranted for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the supposed Orwellian infringement on American freedom that was the…
...1957 Civil Rights Act.
In 1948, Governor Thurmond (D-SC) said things like:
“[The Civil Rights Act] simply means that it’s another means, that it’s another effort on the part of this president to dominate the country by force and to put into effect these uncalled for and the damnable proposals he has recommended under the guise of so-called ‘civil rights.’ And I tell you, the American people, from one side to the other, had better wake up and oppose such a program, and if they don’t the next thing will be a totalitarian state in these United States.”
“There’s not enough troops in the army, to force the southern people to break down segregation and admit the n——- race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.”
When Thurmond said these things, his daughter, kept secret for over 70 years because her mother was a black maid in Thurmond’s father’s house, was 22 years old.
In 1988, when asked about these comments during his 1948 campaign for the presidency, Thurmond told The Washington Post that “I was just trying to protect the rights of the states and the rights of the people. Some in the news media tried to make it a race fight, but it was not that.”
Strom Thurmond’s life is the tl;dr of how the Dixiecrats became Republicans, as he officially switched over to the GOP in 1964, backing Barry Goldwater’s Trumpian bid that succeeded in upsetting the GOP primary, though he was wiped out by Lyndon Johnson in the general. At Thurmond’s 100th birthday, former GOP Senate leader Trent Lott said we “wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years” had Thurmond won the presidency in 1948, and Lott was forced to resign two weeks later. Strom Thurmond represents the fervent and enthusiastic racism of 20th century America, and rebranding as a “pro-South Carolina” politician after black South Carolinians gained the right he spent his life fighting to keep from them does not change his decades of racist politics that he never publicly repudiated.
Strom Thurmond stood opposed to progress in America. People knew this in 1948, 1964 and when he died in 2003. With 2020 not quite just around the corner, we are staring at another roadblock to progress in the way, and it’s important that the Democratic nominee understand the structural issues that led to President Donald J. Trump. Given that, as recently as 2016, Biden defended his 1994 Crime Bill that accelerated the inherently racist policy of mass incarceration (In 2015, Bill Clinton told the NAACP that “I signed a bill that made the problem worse. And I want to admit it.”)—the end product of what he called the  “Biden-Thurmond” crime bill in this eulogy—revisiting how “Uncle Joe” addressed another famed racist firebrand can be instructive. Here are five enlightening excerpts from Biden’s eulogy for Strom Thurmond:
Quick note: Strom Thurmond requested that Joe Biden do his eulogy, so it’s not like Biden trotted into the room on his own volition here, but the fact that Thurmond felt close enough to Biden to ask him to do something like that, is…well…enlightening.
Lindsey, I always thought I was in control, but I knew down deep I wasn’t, and I think this is his last laugh. For what else could explain a Northeast liberal’s presence here as the only outsider speaking today? With the possible exception of Vice President Cheney.
Strom Thurmond was the only man whom I knew who in a literal sense lived in three distinct and separate periods of American history, and lived what would have been considered a full life in each of those periods, particularly in his beloved South. Born into an era of essentially unchallenged and unexamined mores of the South, reaching his full maturity in a era of fully challenged and critically exam[in]ed bankrupt mores of his beloved South, and living out his final three decades in a South that had formally rejected its past on race. In each of these stages, in my observation — and I was only with him the last three decades — Strom represented exactly where he came from.
This illogic about Thurmond’s supposed path to enlightenment follows a Beltway myth dispelled comprehensively in this 2002 article by Slate and instantly by Thurmond’s 1988 quote to The Washington Post about how the media made his n-word comments all about race.
Strom Thurmond was also a brave man, who in the end made his choice and moved to the good side. I disagreed deeply with Strom on the issue of civil rights and on many other issues, but I watched him change. We became good friends.
1973 Joe Biden would be stunned to hear that he “disagreed deeply” with Strom on the issue of civil rights given that 1973 and 1974 Biden consistently voted against bills that would have integrated schools. He even used the same “forced busing” phrase that Thurmond used to voice his opposition to the bills he joined Biden in opposing.
I went to the Senate emboldened, angered, and outraged at age 29 about the treatment of African-Americans in this country, what everything that for a period in his life Strom had represented. But then I met the man. Our differences were profound, but I came to understand that as Archibald MacLeish wrote, “It is not in the world of ideas that life is lived: Life is lived for better or worse in life.” Strom and I shared a life in the Senate for over 30 years. We shared a good life there, and it made a difference. I grew to know him. I looked into his heart and I saw a man, a whole man. I tried to understand him. I learned from him. And I watched him change oh so suddenly.
The British essayist William Hazlitt once wrote (quote): “Death conceals everything but truth, and strips a man of everything but genius and virtue. It’s a sort of natural canonization.”
The truth and genius and virtue of Strom Thurmond is what I choose and we all choose to remember today.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.