Thurmond, (James) Strom 1902-2003

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THURMOND, (James) Strom 1902-2003

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born December 5, 1902, in Edgefield, SC; died June 26, 2003, in Edgefield, SC. Politician and author. Thurmond, who initially opposed desegregation in the South only to later accept it, was most renowned in his later years for becoming the longest-serving and oldest senator in U.S. history. A graduate of Clemson College (now Clemson University), he earned a B.S. in 1923 and started his career as a teacher and athletic coach in South Carolina during the 1920s. He studied law independently with the help of his father and passed the bar in South Carolina in 1930, a year after he had already started work as city attorney, county attorney, and superintendent of education for Edgefield County. He was elected to the South Carolina state senate in 1933 and to the circuit judge bench in 1938. During World War II Thurmond served with distinction in the 82nd Airborne Division and piloted a glider into France during D-Day; he later also fought in the Pacific theater. His active duty medals include the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star with combat "V," the French Croix de Guerre, and the Cross of the Order of the Crown of Belgium. After the war he was elected governor of South Carolina in 1947 and made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1948 as a States Rights candidate. Losing in the next governor's election, he practiced law for several years before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1955. From then until his retirement in 2002, he never left office. During the first decades of his political career Thurmond consistently opposed efforts to desegregate public schools and businesses; he opposed the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, writing the 1956 "Southern Manifesto" that declared the ruling an "abuse of judicial power," and he disagreed with the 1964 Civil Rights Act. By the 1970s, as desegregation became the accepted law of the land, Thurmond reversed his opinion to support of it. He later declared that he had simply been "misunderstood" in his opposition, and that his resistance to desegregation had resulted from his attempt to uphold what was then the current law of the land. Nevertheless, Thurmond was notable for helping African Americans in his later career. He appointed minorities to his staff and was one of the first U.S. senators to support appointing African Americans as judges of federal courts. His increasingly liberal position was also evident when, in 1982, he supported the Voting Rights Act, and in 1991 he voted for legislation that made it easier to prove employer discrimination at the workplace; he was also in favor of highly controversial fetal tissue research. Public perception of Thurmond's transition over the years was evidenced by the fact that he won the Lifetime Contribution Award from the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education in 1996. Apart from race-related issues, Thurmond played an important role in the federal government. He chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1981 to 1987 and the Armed Services Committee from 1993 to 1999 and was the ranking representative on the Veteran Affairs Committee; from 1981 to 1987 he was president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate, placing him fourth in line for the office of president. Though he never received more than twenty percent of the African-American vote in his home state, Thurmond remained popular in South Carolina and was a key figure in promoting business growth and prosperity in his state at a time when other southern states struggled. For his important contributions to his country, he earned the Patriots Award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society in 1974 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993. Thurmond also authored several publications in his lifetime, including The Faith We Have Not Kept (1968).



Encyclopedia of World Biography, second edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.


Chicago Tribune, June 27, 2003, section 1, pp. 1, 6.

Los Angeles Times, June 27, 2003, pp. A1, A33.

New York Times, June 28, 2003, p. A13.

Times (London, England), June 28, 2003.

Washington Post, June 27, 2003, p. A1.

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Thurmond, (James) Strom 1902-2003

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