Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published December 14, 2002

Methuselah Thurmond

The US Senate celebrated a milestone when its first member ever, Strom Thurmond, reached his one-hundredth birthday.

As remarkable as Strom's career has been I'd like to celebrate the life of another remarkable and even longer lived American, the 180 year old Methuselah Thurmond. Unlike Strom, Methuselah was never eligible to run for President because he was not born an American citizen.

Methuselah was just a small child when a rival tribe abducted his family at gunpoint. The muskets, all supplied by good Yankee traders, insured a steady supply of trade items like Methuselah for the American market. Methuselah's father was sold separately and was well on his way across the Middle Passage when he was hastily thrown overboard. A British patrol boat was about to overtake the slaver he had been chained to. His captain had to get rid of the evidence of his illegal commerce to avoid the British courts.

Methuselah was luckier than his father. He survived the Atlantic crossing as did his sister and mother although a third of the cargo succumbed on route to filth, disease, and despair. The sharks that routinely followed slave ships west made short work of the clean up.

In Charleston, where Strom was later to lead the Dixiecrats, Methuselah and his remaining family were sold to Thurmond's great grandfather, Beauregard. Methuselah was castrated at a tender age for his own good. Steers get into less mischief than bulls.

Beauregard's son, Braxton, soon took a fancy to Methuselah's sister and she provided him with a son. Methuselah was rather sorry to see his nephew sold, some years later, during a financial panic.

When the Civil War broke out Methuselah lost track of his sister when she too was sold.  No doubt, Methuselah would have been proud to learn that his nephew fought for the North. It was too bad that this nephew was murdered by Nathan Bedford Forrest's troops at the Massacre of Fort Pillow. The ex-slave trader, Forrest, had a policy of not taking black soldiers prisoner.

Although Methuselah would never learn of them he did have three other nephews born to his sister from a mate of her own choosing. One died of malnutrition shortly before the siege of Columbia, SC where Braxton Thurmond, was a member of the secession legislature.

The second nephew survived into his forties and started a successful general store in Spartanburg. Unfortunately, his success came at the expense of a white store owner who had grown used to charging black customers dear for his merchandise. The competition came to an abrupt end when the nephew was accused of attempting to rape the white store owner's daughter. His subsequent lynching saved South Carolina the expense of a trial.

The last nephew threw caution to the wind and moved to New York where, years later, his own son volunteered to fight in the American Expeditionary Force in France. However, Strom's father, Jeff Davis Thurmond, along with other southern officers made it clear to General Pershing that black soldiers were no more acceptable to them than they had been to Nathan Forrest during the Civil War. The black New Yorkers were turned over to the French Army where they went on to fight more days at the front than any other American unit.

Sadly, the young war hero was murdered in a labor riot shortly after his return from France. White workers objected to blacks competing with them for industrial jobs.

Its not surprising, owing to his early alteration, that Methuselah never married. He remained in South Carolina where he got to vote in several post Civil War elections until the Thurmond family rewrote the law to eliminate the black vote.  The White Thurmonds managed to reacquire most of their original plantation from their former slaves. Once whites were back in control of the legislature the tax laws were drastically rewritten to ease taxes on wealthy landowners.

Although ambitious blacks could no longer be prevented from learning to read and write, as in slave times, white Carolina did ensure that black Carolinians taxes were funneled to white schools. Never a wasteful people, Carolinians saw to it that the white school's hand-me-down text books were sent on to black schools.

It was a blessing really that South Carolina's laws prevented the black population from voting because they were happier in their ignorance. That's why Strom Thurmond was compelled to break from the Democratic Party in 1948 to run for President on a state's rights platform. Strom did his best to make sure that his family's old namesake Methuselah Thurmond, would never again be bothered by having to cast a vote.  If Methuselah had any doubts about Strom's good intentions it just took a few cross burnings to make the point.

Well, that was a few years back and Methuselah has resumed voting. Some people might think it ironic that Methuselah voted for Strom's reelection in 1996 but Methuselah is sentimental like most Carolinians. No one wanted to risk having Strom die of heartbreak because of a lost election.

Its too bad that Trent Lott has taken so much heat for praising Senator Thurmond. Trent was right, " ... if the rest of the country had followed our (the South's) lead, (by voting for Thurmond in 1948) we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years…"

Amen Trent, Amen.

PS. History students who find this document on the web are advised to keep researching.

Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at www.snowbizz.com

On the other hand - read Dick Morris's take on Lott's comments