Segregationist Senator Strom Dead at 100
The headlines compared
So what can you say about a man whose most notable political act was filibustering a civil rights bill for 24 hours and 18 minutes?
- Depends on who you ask, but it probably involves using vague words like "enduring," "remarkable," "colorful" and "controversial":
- "Ex-Senator Thurmond Dies at 100: Lawmaker Helped Shape Modern GOP" (The Washington Post). This one takes the kindly and euphemistic route, talking of his "remarkable career in public service", though still calling him a "former segregationist." The photo on the front of the website when I looked at it was of Strom Thurmond with Nelson Mandela (because those two men have SO much in common!).
- "Strom Thurmond dead at age 100" (The Boston Globe). This headline takes the neutral route, though the article tries its best to be positive, saying that "no other politician underwent more radical changes." Included is this quote: "In 1974 the former Dixiecrat told the Washington Post, 'I don't know how I got such a reputation as a segregationist. I think my position was just misunderstood. I guess it was because when I was the governor of South Carolina it was my duty to uphold the law and the law required segregation, so I was just doing my duty.'"
- "Strom Thurmond, Foe of Integration, Dies at 100" (The New York Times). The direct route. This one is my favorite. As my boyfriend put it: "Sometimes the Times is elegant in its simplicity."
- "TRIBUTE: J. STROM THURMOND," "Strom Thurmond, S.C. Legend, Dies," "Thurmond's career, life were extraordinary," "Strom's legacy will be his service to the state and people he loved." (South Carolina's The State). The all-out worship route.
As for my personal take on the man's death... what can I say? I think August has the right idea: I'm not going to gloat over his death here, but I won't pretend that I ever had the slightest fondness for him when he was alive, either (as you may recall). Strom Thurmond was a racist who did everything in his power to fight integration and preserve racial inequality, the things he stood for and supported were vile, evil, disgusting and revolting, and his death doesn't magically change that.
Update: My boyfriend just sent me this much bolder Alternet headline from South Carolinian writer Christopher George, "Strom Won't Be Missed". A small excerpt from the story:
As might be imagined, he is being remembered as a hero in his home state. The local media would have you believe that the earth itself spun only because he willed it to. We have a tendency, as a people, to not speak badly of those who have passed away, but it's important to remember people for who they actually were, not some rose-colored vision of who they were, or pretended to be.Yes, exactly.
It's with that in mind that I want to paint a picture of what Strom Thurmond really stood for. He was a racist. No amount of sugarcoating or excuse-making can change that. In fact, he was one of the most important figures in the history of the Segregated South... .
If segregation is wrong now it was wrong then, and anybody who supported it was wrong. It's really that simple. Besides, we're not talking about just an average Southern citizen; we're talking about a Southern leader... . Thurmond and his political peers were not followers; they were the policymakers.