Originally created 06/30/03

Funeral speakers reflect diversity of Thurmond's career



COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Former U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, a founder of the conservative Republican South, will be eulogized by two Democrats as well as a federal appeals court judge.

Outspoken black South Carolina Sen. Kay Patterson, D-Columbia, will be among those speaking at Thurmond's funeral Tuesday. Others include U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and chief federal appeals court Judge William "Billy" Wilkins of South Carolina.

Thurmond died Thursday at age 100. His funeral will be Tuesday in Columbia.

Patterson's inclusion in the eulogies at the funeral of the one-time segregationist seems odd, but Patterson says it reflects the change in Thurmond over the years, which he compared to the biblical conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus.

"I have supported him since he left his segregationist ways and became a real American citizen and tried to be the senator for all the people of the state," Patterson told The (Columbia) State for an article Sunday.

During his 1948 campaign for president on the Dixiecrat ticket, Thurmond vowed never to be forced to "admit the Negro race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches."

Patterson says that's old news.

"To hell with that," Patterson said. "That was before Damascus."

Just as Saul went from persecutor of Christians to an apostle named Paul, Thurmond went from being a staunch segregationist to being the first South Carolina congressman to hire a black staffer. That was more than 30 years ago.

"I believe Strom Thurmond was a captive of his era, his age and his geography," said the liberal Democrat Biden, a friend who said he has been asked to deliver a eulogy at Thurmond's funeral. "I do not believe Strom Thurmond at his core was a racist. But even if he had been, I believe that he changed."

Wilkins, chief judge of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and a former Thurmond aide and statewide campaign manager, also is preparing a short eulogy that he says Thurmond asked him to deliver years ago.

"He planned every detail of his funeral," Wilkins said. "I wouldn't be surprised if he left written instructions."

Other national figures expected at Thurmond's funeral Tuesday are Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who served alongside Thurmond for 34 years.

The funeral will be held at a 2,700-seat church in downtown Columbia with burial about 60 miles away in Thurmond's hometown of Edgefield. Three Columbia television stations as well as South Carolina Educational Television plan to broadcast the funeral live.