When in 2003, Sen. Strom Thurmond passed away, the New York Times‘ obituary headline read:
Strom Thurmond, Foe of Integration, Dies at 100
The paper then went on to justify this summation of a 100-year life and 56 years in politics as ‘foe of integration’ by citing his past sins as a racist and his history of opposition to civil rights. Here are some of the bullet points:
- He was an active member of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1940s, recruiting 150 members and rising to the rank of “Exalted Cyclops” which he was elected to by unanimity.
- In 1944 he wrote: “I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side … Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.”
- In 1946 he penned: “The Klan is needed today as never before, and I am anxious to see its rebirth here … and in every state in the nation.”
- He filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964, personally speaking against it for fourteen hours.
- The only senator to have voted against the nominations of both Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas to the SCOTUS – the only two Black justices to be nominated on the Court. He even enlisted the help of the FBI to find communist ties to Marshall to thwart the nomination. He also opposed nominations of Blacks Janice Rogers Brown for US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and Condoleezza Rice for Secretary of State.
- On March 4, 2001 he announced that the problems of race relations are largely behind us, citing that ‘I’ve seen a lot of ‘white n****rs in my time’
So one can see why the Times would characterize him in a rather racist light no? It’s not a pretty picture. Oh gosh, wait a minute. My notes got all mixed up on my desk! These bullet points are about recently passed on Democratic Senator Robert Byrd!
Well, let’s see how the non-biased Times treated this former Klansman (apologies to Thurmond who was in the Army at that time, not the Klan):
Robert C. Byrd, a Pillar of the Senate, Dies at 92
So according to the Times, one racist’s being remembered as a ‘foe of integration’ while the other’s role as a ‘pillar of the Senate’ ultimately depends on party affiliation? Got it.
So if you are a Republican of questionable race-relations background (as Thurmond, the former Democrat-turned-Dixiecrat-turned-Republican, was I’ll grant you) then you are labeled as such. If you are a liberal Democrat, however, you get a free pass because, as we all know, liberals aren’t racists, only conservatives are: just ask Bill Maher. So there must be some other explanation, some outward force bearing in maybe, some youthful indiscretion rather than deep-seeded hatred spewing out (although he was in his 30s when he announced the Klan’s import), that accounts for men like Byrd once being active and committed Klansman.
Former President Bill Clinton made this excuse at Byrd’s funeral:
He once had a fleeting association with the Ku Klux Klan, what does that mean? I’ll tell you what it means. He was a country boy from the hills and hollows from West Virginia. He was trying to get elected.
And maybe he did something he shouldn’t have done come and he spent the rest of his life making it up. And that’s what a good person does. There are no perfect people. There are certainly no perfect politicians.
Nice try. But from one country boy to another: don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining.
Byrd’s lurch towards racial harmony was as political as it was spiritual as his own words hinted when offering advice on public service in 1997: “Be sure you avoid the Ku Klux Klan. Don’t get that albatross around your neck. Once you’ve made that mistake, you inhibit your operations in the political arena.”
Yes, I can see how being in the Klan is bad for a political career…nowadays at least. And, like other Southern and border-state Democrats, Byrd came to realize that he would have to temper “his blatantly segregationist views” if he wanted to play a role nationally. Got it. Quite a moral catharsis. Am I the only one choked up here?
Well, at least Robert Byrd was no Strum Thurmond. Certainly the New York Times doesn’t think so either.