J. Strom Thurmond died on June 27, answering that last great Roll Call in the Sky at the age of 100, shortly after finishing out a half-century in the U.S. Senate. He won his first election before Bill Clinton and Junior Bush were born. He spent the last period of his life in his native place, the Black Belt town of Edgefield, South Carolina. (Can anyone imagine Bob Dole going back to Kansas or the Kennedys to Brookline?)
Aside from the third of the population made up of recently arrived Mexicans and Rust Belt refugees, there is no one in South Carolina who did not know Strom personally. (I met him, through no effort of my own, two weeks after arriving in the state in 1971.) He was known by his Christian name as readily and familiarly as anybody in these parts since Elvis. There is a genuine feeling of loss at his passing, though it has long been anticipated. He outlived several groomed successors.
Thurmond was liked by the people not because he was a “conservative,” although he vaguely symbolized the visceral conservatism of the population. There were few constituents who had not received from him personal assistance in some encounter with the many-headed federal beast.
A graduate of Clemson College back when the all-male students were still uniformed “cadets,” Thurmond began his career in local politics. During World War II,...