June 21, 2001
Now that the Democrats have taken control of the Senate
it’s rumored that aged, ailing Strom Thurmond may resign his
seat as early as July.
Strom Thurmond was born on December 5, 1902. Mark Twain,
Henry James and Bram Stoker were all still writing when the
old segregationist was born.
When Strom first became Governor of South Carolina he was
regarded as something of a progressive. Now of course a progressive
South Carolina politician in those days was one who thought
that a lynching victim should be cut down from the tree lest
they become a public health hazard; a conservative South Carolinian,
of course, felt that leaving them up served as a deterrent
against blacks getting uppity. Strom even suggested in one
of his first speeches as governor that the state should spend
more educating its Negro children. Of course that didn’t mean
they should get anywhere near the schools that white children
Remember Max Schmeling, the German heavyweight champion.
He had two memorable fights with Joe Louis in the thirties.
Max is still with us but Strom’s older than he is.
Strom left the Democratic Party twice. The first time was
in 1948 when Strom was furious about the fact that President
Truman had advanced the totally un-American notion that black
and white Americans could serve in the Army on an equal basis.
Even worse at their convention that year the party endorsed
a (gasp) civil rights plank in the party platform that was
so radical that the KKK could probably support it today. Strom
led a walkout and ran for president as a Dixiecrat vowing
to show the party that they couldn’t win without Strom and
others like him. Oops, Truman won anyway and Strom and his
buddies had to come crawling back.
How about Lou Gehrig. Sixty-two years ago he made his
famous “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech as he
retired from his baseball career. If the Iron Horse was still
around he’d be younger than Strom.
The second time Strom left the party was in 1964 in the wake
of the landmark civil rights act of that year. Strom and the
segregationists fought it like mad. They made speeches about
states rights, they filibustered, they talked about how evil
bureaucrats in D.C. were oppressing them, and they still lost.
But the GOP presidential candidate that year voted against
it. A “B movie” actor late in the campaign made a speech comparing
the leadership of the Democrats to Marx, Lenin and Stalin.
The GOP, weary of looking for people who wanted to repeal
the New Deal decided that bigots votes counted just as much
as country club votes and rolled out the red carpet for the
Stroms of the world.
We can do the age thing by category. Let’s do gangsters.
The following would all be younger than Strom had they not
run afoul of the bullets of law enforcement officials or other
gangsters – Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, Baby Face Nelson,
Pretty Boy Floyd, Bugsy Siegel. There is a question about
John Dillinger – he has two listed birthdays, June 22,1902
(before Strom) and June 22, 1903 (after Strom).
Strom’s 28 year old son is trying for an appointment as U.S.
attorney for South Carolina . Do the math – 28, honest. He
may be an old Confederate Flag waving redneck but I must admit
I’m impressed (and he didn’t need no stinkin’ Viagra, Bob
Leopold and Loeb – the two guys with the genius IQs who
tried to commit the “perfect crime” by murdering a teenager
in 1924 and were saved from execution by the defense of Clarence
Darrow? You guessed it; younger than Strom.
Nowadays the old White Citizens Council has to go by the
somewhat more respectable title of Council of Conservative
Citizens and low-lifes like Trent Lott and Bob Barr are forced
to downplay their association with them. Strom is the last
vestige of something ugly and rotten in U.S. history – the
segregationist South, where white politicians could blatantly
say that they intended to keep the black man under the thumb
of the white man – forever.