Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Attempts to redeem Strom Thurmond not working well

The better conservatives and better conservative commenters are saying that Senator Reid's offhand, cringe-inducing comment about "Negro dialect" isn't equivalent to Trent Lott saying we would be better off if segregationist Strom Thurmond had won the 1948 presidential election.

Where some of them go off the rails though is in trying to salvage anything from Strom Thurmond's racist legacy. We hear from The American Spectator:
Although Thurmond was born and raised in the segregated south, he eventually renounced his past. In 1970, he became the first Southern senator to hire a black staffer and he was the first to recommend a black man to be a federal judge. He then sent his daughter to a heavily integrated public school.
The "first Southern senator to hire a black staffer" is all over the wingnutosphere; many of them are not content with this and expand it to first senator from anywhere to hire an African-American staffer.

So how do all these claims play out in the real world? Thurmond never renounced his past, so that's wrong. As for the rest, I got into a discussion at TigerHawk (I hope I was polite, some folks seem a tad offended). I'll save time and recopy it here:

1. Tigerhawk posted something interesting recently about an apology deficit as a failure to take responsibility. Applies in spades to Thurmond. A few affirmative action hires, if they even occurred, hardly makes up for his past.

2. We're agreed the quote about first Southern Senator with black staff is likely wrong. (The South had black senators in the Reconstruction period, and they likely had black staff.)

3. Your NY Times verification on the first staff hire isn't a NY Times report, it's a Maureen Dowd Op-Ed, which get little to no fact-checking and therefore does little to help you. If you're happy to have Thurmond on your side, I suggest you take Dowd as well. She's useless.

4. Your Time and CNN sources on first staff hire are somewhat better, but they're tossed-off half-sentences, not central to the reports so they provide not too much confidence in their accuracy.

5. Time and CNN confirm that American Spectator was wrong about the date of the hire - it was 1971.

6. You have not provided outside support for any of Spectator's other claims.

7. The CNN transcript led me to Thurmond's biographer and her book, "Strom Thurmond and the Politics of Southern Change." She discusses racial issues extensively. On page 413 she describes his hiring of Tom Moss, in what looks like an attempt to beat out Fritz Holling from hiring a black aide first. Nowhere that I found did she describe this as the first by a post-Reconstruction Southern Senator.

8. Given South Carolina's racial history, I think it's quite likely that Moss was the first black hire for a post-Reconstruction Senator from that state. That's all that's been established on that issue.

9. Lots of misinformation in the Right blogosphere that Thurmond was the first Senator from anywhere to hire a black aide. (Some misinformation in the mainstream as well.)

10. The biography says on page 486 that Thurmond helped a black man chosen by, wait for it, Jimmy Carter, become the first black federal judge in South Carolina. Again, one state and not the entire South.

11. Looks like Judge James Lopez Watson (appointed by Pres. Johnson) precedes Carter's selection as the first judge to head a federal court in the South:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Lopez_Watson

No evidence of Thurmond's involvement. There may be other judges too. There's a black judge appointed by Carter in Alabama, but I'm not sure if it's earlier or later.

12. I just did a quick check on the integrated public school claim, didn't come up with much info.

I could check on putting his daugher in integrated schools, but I think I've wasted enough time on this relic. It's very good that he's out of the Senate.
UPDATE: I overlooked a good link by my debating opponent that seems to establish the school claim, so they got one thing right.

I'll just add again that even more common than the unsuccessful Thurmond redemption claims is the assertion that William F. Buckley renounced racism in the mid-1960s. I've looked all over for this mid-1960s quote, and I can't find it. There's a statement of his in 2004 that "
I once believed we could evolve our way up from Jim Crow. I was wrong." He's clearly distorting his overtly racist statements in the 1950s. He may be getting credit 40 years earlier than he deserves.

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