Do Segregationists Have a Heaven?
If "The Lovely Bones" is right about heaven, Strom Thurmond has just appeared in a glorious version of the white South, where the clock stopped no later than 1948. In the bestselling book about a murdered girl, heaven is divided into neighborhoods of like-minded people (or spirits). If my version of heaven was, say, running a college radio station, and your version of heaven was having your own ska show, we might end up as eternal neighbors.
So here's my question: Do segregationists have a heaven? If so, the senator is probably planning a picnic with Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the Ku Klux Klan, or enacting legislation with Orville Faubus, or doing a Civil War exercise with General Robert E. Lee. Think of the fun! Senator Thurmond, no doubt in his younger form, can spend his day vanquishing the Northerners. Afterwards, the kindly negras will fetch him and his new friends their footstools and pipes. (If no kindly negras choose to appear in the segregationist heaven, maybe the boys can take turns in blackface, like "Birth of a Nation.") Of course, they'll keep a seat warm for Trent Lott.
The passing of America's longest-serving senator raises a whole heavenly host of questions. Yes, the afterlife is described in major religious texts, but do any of us share an exact concept of what it is? Do we get a cookie-cutter heaven, a prefab cloud complete and a new white robe, or is the great beyond customizable? And what about the entry requirements? Hey, slavery was condoned by the church. Are all the slaveowners upstairs, chillin'? Or is morality retroactive -- they were admitted to heaven, but once the church flipped on slavery, they were kicked down to hell? Or, as many theologians posit, is time an illusion? If so, some people who did their best to live by the morals of the day will show up at the pearly gates only to get the Celestial Gong.
This doesn't even get into the question of religious difference. Is there one heaven (and hell) for people of all faiths? Or, much as the world is divided into countries, is the afterlife divided by religion? What if you're a Jewish Buddhist? Do you commute?
It's all fun to think about, particularly given the complexities of Ol' Strom's life. Like, that black daughter of his, when she passes, will they have a family reunion? Will Thomas Jefferson and his black kids show up to welcome her home? Or will Strom spend his eternal sunset among spirits who, throughout the ages, have championed the separation of the races?
God willing, when I go, I'll end up on the other side of town.
Farai Chideya is the founder of Pop and Politics and a frequent contributor to AlterNet.