Bass, Jack 1934-

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Bass, Jack 1934-


Born June 24, 1934, in Columbia, SC; son of Nathan (a merchant) and Esther Bass; married Carolyn McClung, March 3, 1957 (divorced, 1984); married Alice R. Calsaniss, June 22, 1984 (marriage ended); married Nathalie Dupree (a TV cooking show host and food writer); children: Kenneth, David, Elizabeth. Education: University of South Carolina, A.B., 1956, M.A., 1976; Harvard University, further study, 1965-66; Emory University, Ph.D.


Office—College of Charleston, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2 Greenway, Charleston, SC 29424. E-mail—[email protected].


State (newspaper), Columbia, SC, governmental affairs editor, 1963-66; Charlotte Observer, Charlotte, NC, bureau chief, Columbia, SC, 1966-73; Duke University, Durham, NC, research scholar, 1973-75; South Carolina State College, Orangeburg, SC, writer in residence, 1975, research fellow, 1975-78; University of South Carolina, Columbia, director of American South Special Projects, 1979-85; public affairs coordinator, Journalist-in-Space Project, 1986; spent eleven years as professor of journalism at University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS; College of Charleston, Charleston, SC, professor of humanities and social sciences. Part-time lecturer in journalism, University of South Carolina, 1967-71. Has been research scholar at Emory University, Atlanta, GA, and Institute of Legal History at University of South Carolina, Columbia. Military service: U.S. Naval Reserve; became commander.


Sigma Delta Chi.


Nieman fellowship, Harvard University, 1965-66; named South Carolina newspaperman of the year, 1968 and 1972; Notable Books for Adults List, American Library Association, 1976, for The Transformation of Southern Politics; Robert Kennedy Book Award grand prize, 1994, for Taming the Storm: The Life and Times of Judge Frank M. Johnson and the South's Fight over Civil Rights.



(With Jack Nelson) The Orangeburg Massacre, World Publishing (New York, NY), 1970, 2nd edition, Mercer University Press (Macon, GA), 1984, 3rd edition, 1996.

Porgy Comes Home: South Carolina … after 300 Years, R.L. Bryan (Columbia, SC), 1972.

(With Walter De Vries) The Transformation of Southern Politics, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1976, reprinted, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1995.

Widening the Mainstream of American Culture, Ford Foundation (New York, NY), 1978.

Unlikely Heroes, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1981.

(Editor, with Thomas E. Terrill) The American South Comes of Age, Knopf (New York, NY), 1986.

Taming the Storm: The Life and Times of Judge Frank M. Johnson and the South's Fight over Civil Rights, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1993.

(With Marilyn W. Thompson) Ol' Strom: An Unauthorized Biography of Strom Thurmond, Longstreet (Atlanta, GA), 1998.

(With Marilyn W. Thompson) Strom: The Complicated Personal and Political Life of Strom Thurmond, Public Affairs (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to books, including You Can't Eat Magnolias, McGraw, 1972; Emerging Coalitions in American Politics, Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1978; and Explorations in Charleston's Jewish History, History Press, 2005. Contributor to periodicals such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and New Republic. Executive editor of "The American South Comes of Age" television course.


Jack Bass has written extensively on politics, race relations, and the civil rights movement in the southern United States. Among his works are broad, detailed surveys, such as The Transformation of Southern Politics; studies of specific incidents, as in The Orangeburg Massacre; and portraits of individuals, including two biographies of the longest-serving U.S. senator in history, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.

The Orangeburg Massacre, written with Jack Nelson, deals with the February 1968 shootings of college students by police, as well as the tragedy's aftermath. Three students from South Carolina State College (SCSC) in Orangeburg were shot to death and twenty-seven of their classmates were wounded in the incident, which was the climax of a series of events that had begun when the white proprietor of a local bowling alley refused admission to students from the black college. SCSC turned to the Justice Department Civil Rights Division, but when the agency dragged its feet, the students grew militant. The state police, national guard, and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were called in to maintain order. On the night of February 8, during a bonfire, a policeman was hit by thrown debris; shortly thereafter, police opened fire on unarmed, fleeing students. In an investigation of the incident, FBI agents lied about their whereabouts at the time, and state officials fabricated a story justifying the shootings. A federal court found nine state patrolmen not guilty of violating the civil rights of the three dead. "The nation yawned and soon forgot Orangeburg," commented Joseph C. Goulden in the Nation.

Bass and Nelson's version of what happened the night of February 8, based on their investigations and interviews, refutes the story accepted at the time. They contend that "had the press given a reasonably accurate account of what had happened, there probably would have been some national indignation." Several critics commended them for uncovering the real story. Jonathan Yardley, reviewing for the New Republic, observed that "a passionate belief in the truth … is essential if one wishes to find out what happened at Orangeburg, for the smokescreen of official lies and evasions put up to hide it is nearly impenetrable." Yardley added that setting the record straight is not the book's only accomplishment: "It stands out in the flood of civil rights books not merely because of its good reportage, but because it is a devastating case history of the misuse of law-enforcement authority and the perversion of justice." Goulden also praised Bass and Nelson's work, saying: "Because they can write objectively of such horror, they make the Orangeburg story more appalling. Events speak, not the authors, and the result is brilliant, re-creative reporting."

Of his book The Transformation of Southern Politics, Bass told CA: "For more than a decade, I had thought and occasionally talked about the idea of updating V.O. Key's classic book, Southern Politics in State and Nation. As a southern-based journalist who covered politics and witnessed dramatic changes as they occurred, it seemed to me that a book that was both readable and academically sound could be produced by a political reporter teaming up with a political scientist. Others agreed. In the spring of 1973, a chance meeting with a visitor from the Ford Foundation to Columbia, South Carolina, got me moving. What evolved was a two-year project, funded by grants from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, in which Walter De Vries and I operated from a base at Duke University, traveled more than 40,000 miles in the eleven states of the old Confederacy, and conducted more than 360 interviews with elected officials, journalists, academic analysts, party officials, and others."

The Transformation of Southern Politics takes into account the changes that have occurred in the South—due especially to the turbulent 1960s and the civil rights movement—since Key's often-consulted work was published in 1949. "This stormy era has been captured in all its variety and complexity in [this] timely and ambitious book that reveals the broad panorama of change through surveys of each of the eleven Southern states, using the methodology and style of Key's original work," wrote Eli N. Evans in the New York Times Book Review. To their interviews, Bass and De Vries add much demographic information and data gathered from public opinion polls; several reviewers found this a valuable aspect of the book. "As statisticians and students of the South they are absolutely firstrate," observed Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post Book World. Added Evans: "With their synthesis of facts, figures, and personal accounts, they have created a rich tapestry of colorful detail that is written in a journalistic style that will be as fascinating for lay readers as for scholars."

Bass and De Vries treat each of the eleven states separately, and "their individual portraits of the states, on the whole, are penetrating," noted Yardley. He found that "their analysis of Florida … has serious flaws," but thought "their problem … may be that Florida isn't really a ‘Southern’ state, and it's difficult to get a handle on." New Republic contributor Jason Berry remarked that "the current of populist rhetoric running through parts of the South today is something Bass and DeVries should have discussed in more depth," but allowed: "Were V.O. Key alive, I have no doubt that he would gladly endorse Transformation as a sequel to his own work." Berry concluded: "The social message that rises from these pages is that of a region, once steeped in tragedy and guilt, suddenly growing into a sense of self, as a land of shared rootedness and common hopes."

In Unlikely Heroes, Bass demonstrates the role of the judiciary in effecting change in the South of the 1960s. He focuses on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, particularly four of its judges, John R. Brown, Elbert P. Tuttle, John M. Wisdom, and Richard Rives, whose legal opinions helped strike down laws that discriminated against blacks.

Bass won praise from several reviewers for his portrayal of the judges and their work. "In rich profiles of these men, Bass makes us feel the risk they took for this country by enlarging the judiciary to take an active and level-eyed determined role in seeing that black citizens' constitutional rights were gained and protected," related Joe Cumming, Jr., in the Atlanta Journal/Constitution. David Jonathan Cohen, writing in the Washington Post Book World, observed that "Bass does a remarkable job of laying out clearly the impact legal doctrines may have, the respect lawyers accord them, and the trepidation with which judges change them." Cohen added: "The generally chronological progress of Unlikely Heroes pulls in masses of anecdotal material, biographical background and judicial doctrine." Cumming summed up the work by calling it "the best history of the civil rights movement I've read."

The judiciary is also the focus of Taming the Storm: The Life and Times of Judge Frank M. Johnson and the South's Fight over Civil Rights. Bass, drawing on interviews with Johnson and others, details his subject's important role as a federal district judge in Montgomery, Alabama, during the most turbulent years of the civil rights movement. His tenure began in the fall of 1955, around the same time that African American seamstress Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a Montgomery bus and give up her seat to a white rider. In 1956, Johnson declared the segregation of bus riders unconstitutional. He later made rulings desegregating the state's schools and allowing the second Selma-to-Montgomery march led by Martin Luther King, Jr. Johnson's stances brought him much criticism and even death threats, but he continued serving as district judge until 1979, when he was appointed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Some critics found Taming the Storm thorough and valuable. It is "the most comprehensive—and I suspect, definitive—account of Johnson's life and seminal work," commented Ray Jenkins in Nieman Reports. A Publishers Weekly reviewer remarked that Johnson "comes alive in this substantial biography." Jenkins thought the book's legal minutiae might "bewilder the average reader" and wished for more attention to what Johnson might have accomplished as a U.S. Supreme Court justice—he had come close to being nominated in 1971. "The possibility of a ‘Justice Johnson’ calls for more illumination then we get," Jenkins wrote, adding: "But if Jack Bass does not accomplish this problematical task, at least he has given future scholars a most solid basis on which to formulate their own judgments."

Another important figure of the civil rights era and beyond, although noted primarily for his opposition to equal rights for African Americans, comes in for scrutiny in two books Bass wrote with Marilyn W. Thompson. They published Ol' Strom: An Unauthorized Biography of Strom Thurmond before the veteran senator's death. After he died, at age one hundred, in 2003, they wrote Strom: The Complicated Personal and Political Life of Strom Thurmond. This volume, Ferrel Guillory wrote in the Journal of Southern History, "draws from their earlier book and provides another layer of insight." Among other things, they deal with the fact, revealed only after Thurmond's death, that the ardent segregationist had fathered a daughter with a black woman who worked for the Thurmond family. They detail his relationship with the daughter as well as other aspects of his personal and political lives: his marriages and affairs; his departure from the Democratic Party when it embraced civil rights, paving the way for migration of Southern whites to the Republican Party; and his eventual courting of blacks as he recognized them as important constituents.

Several reviewers deemed the book a comprehensive and even-handed portrait of Thurmond. Guillory called it a "highly readable, richly textured" book and said the authors "write with dexterity—and without sensationalism." Hanes Walton, Jr., writing in Political Science Quarterly, found it "superb," particularly commending its "balanced treatment of Senator Thurmond's secret relationship with his African American daughter." Foreign Affairs contributor Walter Russell Mead described the volume as a "riveting, Faulknerian book," while Walton concluded by recommending it "to party, leadership, and African American studies scholars."



American Journal of Legal History, July, 1994, Tony Freyer, review of Taming the Storm: The Life and Times of Judge Frank M. Johnson and the South's Fight over Civil Rights, pp. 406-408.

American Spectator, March, 1999, review of Ol' Strom: An Unauthorized Biography of Strom Thurmond, p. 70.

Atlanta Journal/Constitution, July 19, 1981, Joe Cumming, Jr., review of Unlikely Heroes.

Booklist, January 1, 1993, Jay Freeman, review of Taming the Storm, p. 775; December 15, 1998, Mary Carroll, review of Ol' Strom, p. 709.

Bookwatch, March, 1993, review of Taming the Storm, p. 11.

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, February 16, 1993, Harris Wofford, review of Taming the Storm, p. 6.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, November, 2005, T.H. Ferrell, review of Strom: The Complicated Personal and Political Life of Strom Thurmond, p. 569.

Federal Bar News & Journal, October, 1993, Thomas H. Boyd, review of Taming the Storm, pp. 586-588.

Foreign Affairs, September/October, 2005, Walter Russell Mead, review of Strom.

Journal of American History, September, 1994, Robert J. Norrell, review of Taming the Storm, p. 819.

Journal of Southern History, November, 2006, Ferrel Guillory, review of Strom, p. 985.

Judicature, March/April, 1994, Howard O. Hunter, review of Taming the Storm, p. 275.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1992, review of Taming the Storm, p. 1341; November 1, 1998, review of Ol' Strom, p. 592.

Legal Times, March 29, 1993, Norman Oder, review of Taming the Storm, p. 46.

Library Journal, January, 1993, Jack Forman, review of Taming the Storm, p. 126; November 15, 1998, Karl Helicher, review of Ol' Strom, p. 74.

Massachusetts Law Review, December, 1993, J. Thomas Kirkman, review of Taming the Storm, p. 149.

Nation, September 28, 1970, Joseph C. Goulden, "Remembering Orangeburg."

New Republic, November 21, 1970, Jonathan Yardley, review of The Orangeburg Massacre; September 11, 1976, Jason Berry, review of The Transformation of Southern Politics.

New York Law Journal, May 11, 1993, Robert C. Meade, review of Taming the Storm, p. 2.

New York Times Book Review, August 15, 1976, Eli N. Evans, review of The Transformation of Southern Politics; February 7, 1993, Harris Wofford, review of Taming the Storm, p. 13; February 27, 1994, Laurel Graeber, review of Taming the Storm, p. 32; October 3, 1999, Phil Gailey, "Ancient of Days," p. 18.

Nieman Reports, spring, 1993, Ray Jenkins, review of Taming the Storm, p. 76; winter, 2005, "Jack Bass and Coauthor Marilyn W. Thompson's Book, ‘Strom: The Complicated Personal and Political Life of Strom Thurmond,’ Was Published in May by PublicAffairs," p. 20.

Political Science Quarterly, winter, 2006, Hanes Walton, Jr., review of Strom, p. 727.

Publishers Weekly, November 9, 1992, review of Taming the Storm, p. 66; November 30, 1998, review of Ol' Strom, p. 63.

Washington Post Book World, August 22, 1976, Jonathan Yardley, review of The Transformation of Southern Politics; July 5, 1981, David Jonathan Cohen, review of Unlikely Heroes; January 24, 1993, E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr., "Making the Rights Decisions," p. 8; February 21, 1999, Scott Sherman, review of Ol' Strom, p. 3.

Wisconsin Lawyer, September, 1993, Lawrence G. Albrecht, review of Taming the Storm, p. 61.


College of Charleston Web site, (April 7, 2008), brief biography.

Emory University Web site, (July 14, 1997), Scott Barker, "Bass Brings Historic Civil Rights Cases Out of the Shadows."

Jack Bass Home Page,