Hundreds of people lined up in oppressive heat Sunday at the South Carolina Statehouse to pay respects to Strom Thurmond, lying in state in a flag-draped casket, his World War II medals nearby.
The onetime arch segregationist was 100 when he died Thursday at a hospital in his hometown of Edgefield, about 60 miles from Columbia. The longest-serving senator in history, he left the U.S. Senate five months ago.
Family members greeted each person in the long line with handshakes and smiles, thanking visitors for coming. The line dragged as many people stopped to tell their “Strom stories,” prompting one guard to ask visitors not to share them.
Helen Dennis Bone, who came in from the South Carolina coast to pay respects to the Thurmond family, said she worked for Thurmond as an intern and campaigned for him in the 1970s.
“There was a spirit in his office of really helping people,” Bone said. She was a recipient of that help when her mother died in Iceland and Thurmond arranged for Bone to get a passport immediately.
“There are so many politicians who are bigger than you are, but he was never bigger than you,” Bone said.
James Graham, Thurmond’s driver for 16 years, made his second trip in seven days to South Carolina from Maryland. He made the first trip last Monday when he heard Thurmond’s condition had worsened. “He looked up at me and said: ‘James, I love you,’ and reached for my hand, and I will treasure that as long as I live,” Graham said.
Thurmond’s body will lie in state until his funeral Tuesday.