It turns out that from all the members of the US Senate, Strom Thurmond selected only one– Joseph Biden of Delaware– to deliver a eulogy at his funeral. That is, the former champion of “states rights,” the long-time symbol of white Southern opposition to civil rights for African-Americans, picked a Northeastern liberal Democrat– who probably voted differently from him 80 to 90 percent of the time– to speak about his life and achievements. Though Thurmond remained a right-wing Republican to the end of his 100 years, he did seem to recognize that the world had changed since he ran for President on a pro-segregration platform in 1948 and fillibustered against civil rights laws in the 1950s. He voted to grant the mostly black population of Washington, D.C., the right to elect a Congress member and Senators in 1978; voted for 1982’s Voting Rights Act Extension (the most important civil rights legislation of that decade); and voted for the creation of a Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday in 1983.
None of this atones for what he did earlier in his career to deny and delay the full rights of citizenship for black Americans. And Biden, who expressed surprise that Thurmond had selected him for the eulogy, said, “I think this is his last laugh.” But I can’t help but feel there’s something– dare I say it?– touching about it.