The old order passeth away...
"I want to tell you that there's not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Negro race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches." -- A speech to 1948 States Rights convention
Strom Thurmond, retired US senator of South Carolina, died last night. He was 100 years old.
"Thurmond's unparalleled political career spanned eight decades, beginning with the Edgefield, school board in 1924. He served a term as South Carolina's governor, ran for president in 1948 to oppose civil rights, and won a Senate seat in 1954 as a write-in candidate. There he served 48 years, becoming the oldest and longest-serving senator in American history."
Thurmond was an icon of a way of life that was "the old South, a provincial gentility that brought a sense of cohesion to that class of people around whom it was created; that is to say, white Protestants of Anglo-Saxon origin. Alas, its ultimate downfall was that its preservation, by definition, was at the expense of another class of people; namely, those of African origin, most of whose ancestors were brought here for involuntary servitude, to uphold an economic structure that, in the end, could not have survived the rise of industrialism occuring in its very shadow.
For Thurmond, and those whom he represented, it may have been less the subjugation of one way of life, than it was the preservation of another. To do so for the betterment of all, however, is a classic feature of the American spirit, a criterion lost on its proponents in their desire to preserve the equally classic feature of state sovereignty. Before the American civil war, people would refer to our nation thus: "The United States are..." After that conflict, the reference was changed to read: "The United States is..." In the end, the refusal to subordinate one to the larger picture led to the demise of the other. Our nation survived the conflict that arose from this dilemma, but at a cost that historians still debate more than a century later.
There can never be another leader like Thurmond, for there can never again be a society that allows one class to flourish at the expense of another. In his later years, he made numerous overtures to the black community. Perhaps this was a form of atonement, or simply a mark of his ability to adapt to the changing politcal winds. But he will be remembered most of all, not for making amends, but for the abuse of power that required such amends to begin with.
May God have mercy on him -- indeed, upon us all.