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Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Benefit of Civil Rights to a Southern Segregationist

A story Joe Biden told when asked to give a eulogy at Strom Thurmand's funeral:

"When I first arrived in the Senate, in 1972, I met with John Stennis, another old Southern senator, who became my friend. We sat at the other end of this gigantic, grand mahogany table he used as his desk that had been the desk of Richard Russell's. It was a table upon which the Southern Manifesto was signed, I am told. The year was 1972.

Senator Stennis patted the leather chair next to him when I walked in to pay my respects as a new young senator, which was the order of the day. And he said, Sit down, sit down, sit down here, son. And those who serve with him know he always talked like this.

And he looked at me and he said, 'Son, what made you run for the Senate?' And like a darn fool I told him the exact truth ... I said, 'Civil rights, sir.' And as soon as I did I could feel the beads of perspiration pop out of my head and get that funny feeling. And he looked at me and said, 'Good, good, good.' And that was the end of the conversation. (LAUGHTER)

Well, 18 years later, after us having shared a hospital suite for three months at Walter Reed and after him having tried to help me in another pursuit I had, we'd become friends.

I saw him sitting behind that same table 18 years later, only this time in a wheelchair. His leg had been amputated because of cancer. And I was going to look at offices, because in my seniority his office was available as he was leaving.

I went in and sat down and he looked at me as if it were yesterday and he said, 'Sit down, Joe, sit down,' and tapped that chair. And he said something that startled me. He said, 'Remember the first time you came to see me, Joe?' And I shook my head, I didn't remember. And he leaned forward and he recited the story.

I said to him, 'I was a pretty smart young fellow, wasn't I, Mr. Chairman?' He said, 'Joe, I wanted to tell you something then that I'm going to tell you now. You are going to take my office, aren't you?' And I said, 'Yes, sir, Mr. Chairman.'

And he ran his hand back and forth across that mahogany table in a loving way, and he said, 'You see this table, Joe?' This is the God's truth. He said, 'You see this table?'

And I said, 'Yes, sir, Mr. Chairman.' He said, 'This table was the flagship of the Confederacy from 1954 to 1968.' He said, 'We sat here, most of us from the Deep South, the old Confederacy, and we planned the demise of the civil rights movement.'

Then he looked at me and said, 'And now it's time, it's time that this table go from the possession of a man against civil rights to a man who is for civil rights.'

And I was stunned. And he said, 'One more thing, Joe,' he said. 'The civil rights movement did more to free the white man than the black man.'

And I looked at him, I didn't know what he meant, and he said in only John Stennis fashion, he said, 'It freed my soul, it freed my soul.'

from Jonathan Martin's blog on Politico,

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