Farewell to Senator Thurmond
December 7, 2002
By Rodney Jay C. Salinas
Senator Strom Thurmond, the oldest sitting and longest serving
Member of the U.S. Senate, turned 100 years old this week.
And while many in Washington and his home state of South Carolina
have celebrated his milestone birthday, the rest of us are
celebrating his departure. For when the 108th Congress convenes
in January, Senator Thurmond will not be among the 100 individuals
on the Senate floor.
Amidst all of the nicely written puff pieces about the Senator
lately, the details of his racist acts have barely registered
a blip on the radar screen. It is amazing how quickly we forget
our history. Lest we forget, here’s a quick recap.
First, let’s begin with some background. James Strom Thurmond
was born on December 5, 1902, in Edgefield, South Carolina.
In 1902, Theodore Roosevelt was president, and Mark Twain
was still writing books. Strom Thurmond has been alive for
almost half of the entire history of the United States, and
he has lived through 18 (out of 43) different U.S. presidents,
When he was elected governor of South Carolina in 1946, Strom
Thurmond was still receiving votes from Civil War veterans.
To put things in better perspective, both George W. Bush and
Bill Clinton were born that year.
A few years later, in 1954, Strom Thurmond became Senator
Strom Thurmond after an extensive government and press-sponsored
campaign to teach the semi-literate South Carolina populace
how to write his name. That same year, there were still only
48 states in the union.
Now with all that as background it is easy to see why Senator
Thurmond has had such a poor record of service to people of
color and minorities in this country. If nothing else, Senator
Thurmond is a victim of his generation.
Senator Thurmond has set many records during his time in
the U.S. Senate, including holding the record for the longest
filibuster in history at 24 hours and 18 minutes, in opposition
to the 1957 Civil Rights Act. A few years before that, Harry
Truman encouraged the Democratic Party to take up the cause
of civil rights at the 1948 convention. Instead, Senator Thurmond,
a Democrat at the time, left the Party and ran for president
as an independent. Thankfully, he lost.
Senator Thurmond is also on record for fighting against school
desegregation. And in 1967, when Thurgood Marshall was nominated
as the first Black justice of the Supreme Court, Senator Thurmond
badgered the nominee at the confirmation hearing with 60 obscure
The current story behind Senator Thurmond is that he is a
changed man. By the 1970s, he reportedly saw the error of
his ways and began to change his attitude and perception of
Blacks and other minorities. He had even begun to hire Blacks
to work in his office and support some of their most beloved
By 1970, he was already 68 years old. There are not too many
people his age that are willing to simply change their ways
that quickly. If so, great.
But if you ask me, Senator Thurmond did not voluntarily change
his spots, he was forced to do it. Faced with a changing demographic
landscape, the racist Senators of yesteryear were quickly
becoming extinct. And if Senator Thurmond did not adjust with
the changing times, the voters might have cast their ballots
Without a doubt, the Senator’s handlers, the folks behind
the scenes who greatly influence the Senator, surely must
have realized the changing tone in American politics. The
days of segregation were gone, and those who continued to
embrace it were doomed to retirement. South Carolina, a state
with otherwise little clout or influence in the Senate, relied
on Senator Thurmond to “bring home the bacon.”
In his decades in office, the Senator has helped shepherd
millions of dollars into the state’s economy and had kept
the best interests of his state at the top of the Senate agenda.
And because he is such an integral part of state’s well being,
Senator Thurmond’s mere presence on the Senate floor was enough.
And that’s exactly what happened for the last ten years.
Bound to a motorized wheelchair, the Senator has spent virtually
every night of the last ten years at Washington’s Walter Reed
Army Medical Center. The only time he left the hospital was
to cast his vote, even though many Senate insiders claim that
he often did not even know what he was voting in favor of
In the final analysis, we do not live in a vacuum. Each of
us is a product of our generation and upbringing. And for
that, I hold no grudge against Senator Thurmond.
Nevertheless, we each must be held accountable for our actions
– past and present. Not only was Senator Thurmond a bigot,
he tried everything in his power as a Senator to stop some
of the most significant improvements for racial minorities
in American history. I can only hope that his brand of bigotry
and racism leave with Senator Thurmond as he exits the Senate
chambers at the end of the month.
Rodney Jay C. Salinas is President of the Rainmaker Political
Group LLC and Publisher of PoliticalCircus.com,
an online source for political news and information for the
Asian Pacific American community. He can be contacted at email@example.com.