When Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina died in 2003 at the age of 100, he seemed to embody the term “political survivor.” Think of someone who began his career as a Roose­velt Democrat and finished it as a Reagan Republican, who campaigned for president as a white supremacist and ended up supporting a national holiday for Martin Luther King. Decades passed, one generation replaced another, but Thurmond soldiered on, swapping causes, even political parties, with a juggler’s eye. Where many politicians become objects of contempt or indifference over time, with Thurmond the reverse was true: the longer he lasted, the more revered he became. He hailed from Edgefield County in the hardscrabble Carolina Piedmont, home to several governors and a host of Lost Cause Southern heroes like “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman, the race-baiting demagogue who notoriously advocated lynching to protect white women from black “lust.” Edgefield had a tradition of enforcing its Jim Crow laws with a heavy hand — a necessity, whites believed, in a county where two-thirds of the residents were black.

more from David Oshinsky at the NY Times here.