Thurmond, Strom

views updated May 29 2018

Thurmond, Strom 19022003


Strom Thurmond was born James Strom Thurmond on December 5, 1902, in Edgefield, South Carolina. He was one of six children born to John William Thurmond and Eleanor Gertrude Strom. Thurmonds father was a lawyer, farmer, community leader, and former South Carolina state senator. Strom followed in his fathers footsteps by acquiring a self-taught law degree (under the tutelage of his father) and entering politics after his 1923 graduation from Clemson College (now Clemson University). In 1928 Thurmond was elected the superintendent of education for Edgefield County. In 1932 he was elected a state senator of Edgefield County. In 1938 he was sworn in as an elected state judge, but he voluntarily gave up his judgeship in 1942 to enlist in the army during World War II (19391945). Thurmond became governor of South Carolina in 1946 when he beat the incumbent governor, Ransome J. Williams, (and nine other candidates) in the South Carolina gubernatorial race.

Thurmond was an avid Democratic Party politician, but the 1948 presidential election became a benchmark year for what became his and southern Democratic politicians revolt from the national party. Democratic president Harry S. Trumans 1948 reelection campaign advocated procivil rights legislation (abolition of the poll tax, support of an antilynching law, the creation of a permanent Federal Employment Practices Commission, and a ban on discrimination in commerce). Southern states reacted negatively to this platform by revolting from the national party to form their own, prosegregation and antiblack civil rights, wing of the partythe Dixiecrats, or States Rights Party. Thurmond was nominated the Dixiecrat presidential candidate, officially representing the partys position that states had the right to retain segregation. Thurmond lost the election, but his staunchly southern prosegregation and antiblack civil rights positions launched him into the helm of southern political leadership.

Thurmond was elected a U.S. senator of South Carolina in 1954, and during his tenure he opposed the passage of several civil rights billsthe Civil Rights Acts of 1957 (in obstructing the bills passage he set the record for the longest Senate filibustertwenty-four hours and eighteen minutes), the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, all of which were important in advancing blacks civil rights. His continued dissatisfaction with the Democratic Partys stance on civil rights issues led him to sever his ties with the party in 1964 and become a Republican.

Despite Thurmonds initial support for Lyndon B. Johnson (a southern Democrat from Texas) as the vice presidential candidate in 1964, Thurmond later openly opposed the national partys liberal plank on civil rights. The summer before the 1964 presidential election, Thurmond decided not to attend the Democratic national convention because of his ideological differences on civil rights, which separated him from the national partys politics. In a 1964 speech to a South Carolina audience, Thurmond denounced the Democratic Party platform and announced his realignment with the Republican Party and his support of Barry Goldwaters (a Republican senator from Arizona) 1964 presidential candidacy. Thurmond found more ideological connections with the conservative Goldwater, who, although he was not a segregationist per se, had outlined in 1961 a southern strategy to invite southerners to support the Republican Party as the anticivil rights political party. Thurmonds partisan realignment influenced the eventual realignment of most white southern Democrats to the Republican Party. His realignment with the Republican Party also laid the foundation for what would become a new and lifelong commitment to this political party.

During much of Thurmonds political career, his politics were marred with antiblack interests. He was an avidsupporter of freedom of choice school desegregation plans (despite their being declared unconstitutional by the 1968 Supreme Court case Green u. New Kent County ), which were a part of the massive resistance that southern governments implemented to avoid desegregation. Often, freedom of choice desegregation plans retained former segregation practiceswhites who opposed desegregation chose to attend white schools (in order to avoid contact with blacks) and blacks who more than likely supported desegregation continued to attend all-black schools (in order to avoid intimidation by whites in integrated schools).

The issue of freedom of choice plans was at the center of the 1970 South Carolina gubernatorial race, and the candidate who supported the plan (South Carolina congressmember Albert Watson) lost to the candidate who opposed it (South Carolina lieutenant governor John West). This political victory attested to the significance of the candidates more moderate views on race and his appeal among a majority of black voters. After witnessing this change in how elections could be won in South Carolina politics, Thurmond became more open to considering blacks political interests and to broadening his constituent service to South Carolinas black electorate. He even hired a black staff member, Thomas Moss, who informed him about black political issues.

During the 1970s Thurmond continued to build his relationship with the black electorate, but despite this changed political interest in addressing black issues, Thurmond (as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee) initially opposed support of the 1982 Voting Rights Act, which would have extended the provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that protected blacks voting rights. He eventually supported the act.

Over time, Thurmond climbed the political ladder, achieving high political posts such as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and serving as president pro tempore (19811987; 1995). He was the longest-lived and longest-serving U.S. senator, having reached the age of 100 during his service. At his 100th birthday celebration, Trent Lott (R-MS) made controversial remarks about Thurmonds 1948 presidential candidacy that eventuallyled to Lott resigning from his position as senate majority leader. In January 2003 Thurmond retired from his senate position. He died in the same year on June 26, 2003.

Posthumously, rumors about his having fathered an African American daughter resurfaced and were confirmed when Essie Mae Washington-Williams announced that she was, in fact, Thurmonds daughter. Thurmonds fathering of an African American daughter (with the Thurmond family African American housekeeper, Carrie Butler) conflicts with a major principle of segregationthe prohibition of race mixing, or miscegenation. According to segregationists, blacks and whites are supposed to be divided in every way of life, especially sexual relations, and antimiscegenation laws in the south banned interracial marriage and interracial sexual relations. Thus Thurmond had covertly defied the racial and sexual social mores that he publicly supported. Thurmond was married successively to Jean Crouch and to Nancy Janice Moore (with whom he had four children); both of them were (white) former Miss South Carolinas.

SEE ALSO Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Dixiecrats; Filibuster; Segregation; Sex, Interracial; Voting Rights Act


Bass, Jack, and Marilyn W. Thompson. 2003. Ol Strom: An Unauthorized Biography. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

Bass, Jack, and Marilyn W. Thompson. 2006. Strom: The Complicated Personal and Political Life of Strom Thurmond. New York: Perseus.

Cohodas, Nadine. 1993. Strom Thurmond and the Politics of Southern Change. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Frederickson, Kari. 2001. The Dixiecrat Revolt and the End of the Solid South, 19321968. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Lachicotte, Alberta. 1966. Rebel Senator: Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. New York: Devin-Adair.

Sherrill, Robert. 1968. Gothic Politics in the Deep South: Stars of the New Confederacy. New York: Grossman.

Strom Thurmond Biography. Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

Washington-Williams, Essie Mae, and William Stadium. 2005. Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond. New York: HarperCollins.

Shayla C. Nunnally

James Strom Thurmond

views updated Jun 27 2018

James Strom Thurmond

Senator, lawyer, governor of South Carolina, and presidential nominee on the "Dixiecrat" ticket in 1948, James Strom Thurmond (born 1902) is a conservative politician who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1954.

Strom Thurmond was born on December 5, 1902, in Edgefield, South Carolina while Theodore Roosevelt was President. He attended schools there and upon graduating entered Clemson College, earning a B.S. degree in horticulture in 1923. For the next several years he taught high school near his boyhood home. He was elected to the Edgefield County Board of Education in 1924—the youngest member ever elected in South Carolina. During this same period, in addition to course work in psychology and other subjects, Thurmond enrolled in a correspondence course in law and passed the South Carolina bar in December 1930. Between 1929 and 1933, Thurmond served as superintendent of education for Edgefield County.

Political Career Begins in South Carolina

Thurmond was elected to the state senate from Edgefield County in 1933 and served until he became a circuit judge in the state in 1938. He was 35 at the time and was the youngest circuit court judge in South Carolina. His service on the bench was interrupted during World War II, during which he served as a pilot with the 82nd Airborne Division in Europe and the Pacific, returning with numerous decorations and the rank of lieutenant colonel. He remained on the circuit court until 1946, when he resigned and announced his candidacy for governor. He won the election that year over ten other candidates.

Thurmond in the National Spotlight

In opposition to President Truman's civil rights plank in the Democratic Party platform, Southern Democrats, known as Dixiecrats, left the 1948 party convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They reconvened in Birmingham, Alabama, and nominated J. Strom Thurmond as their presidential candidate and Fielding L. Wright, governor of Mississippi, as their vice-presidential candidate. Thurmond and Wright carried four southern states (Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina) and, with one additional elector from Tennessee, received a total of 39 Electoral College votes. Thurmond's split from the Democratic Party was never completely repaired, and party affiliation was significant again in his later career.

Senatorial Career Begins

As the governor of South Carolina is limited to one term of four years, when his term expired, Thurmond opted to challenge the incumbent Democratic senator from South Carolina, Olin T. Johnston. In a tight primary race in 1950, he lost the election. He subsequently opened a law practice in Aiken. In 1954 the senior senator from South Carolina, Burnet R. Mayfield, died, leaving the selection of his replacement to the State Democratic Committee. Overlooking Thurmond's strong showing against Johnston, the committee appointed a state senator to serve as Mayfield's replacement. Thurmond, at the encouragement of numerous individuals, decided to challenge the new appointee as a write-in candidate to succeed Mayfield. In a surprise election, Thurmond carried the state with 63 percent of the vote (and 37 of the 46 counties), again making political history as the first write-in candidate to win election as a United States senator.

As part of his election campaign, Thurmond stated he would resign if elected to the Senate so that the people of South Carolina could have a voice in electing its senatorial representative. In April 1956 Thurmond resigned his seat and stood for election in the Democratic primary, which he won without opposition. Thurmond was reelected to the Senate in 1960, 1966, 1972, 1978, 1984, 1990, and 1996. He challenged conventional wisdom by changing his political party (from Democratic to Republican) in 1964 to support the candidacy of Barry Goldwater for president of the United States. His 1966 election marked the first time since Reconstruction that a Southern Republican was elected to the Senate.

Surprisingly, Thurmond has faced little serious opposition in the elections in which he has participated, including the 1996 election. In a June 3, 1996 article in the Fort Worth Star Telegram his competitors, businessman Elliott Close and state Representative Harold Worley brought up the "age issue" indirectly, preferring to tell Thurmond that it was "time to come home." Thurmond shot back about his competiton's "lack of experience" and won with 53% of the vote. Ironically, Thurmond supports term limits. In a May 23, 1996 article in The Seattle Times he is quoted as saying, "It might be just as well for people to have a change in their congressman."

Age does seem to finally be taking its toll on a senator who prides himself on his physical prowess. A May 6, 1996 article in Newsweek reported that "the Senate is, in fact, Thurmond's nursing home." The report detailed the "special handling" and perks that were provided to keep Thurmond in office. In 1997, Thurmond passed two milestones when he became the longest serving senator in US history, surpassing the record of former Senator Carl Hayden of Arizona, and the oldest person to serve in Congress, surpassing Senator Theodore Green of Rhode Island. His election in 1996, at age 94, means that he will celebrate his 100th birthday while still in office. "I intend to serve out my term, " said Thurmond in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, and that he feels "like a million dollars."

Career Controversy

The political career of Senator Thurmond is marked not only by its longevity; it is also noted for controversial opinions. Thurmond's presidential run on the Dixiecrat party ticket in 1948 and his term as governor were marked by segregationist policies. He holds a Senate record of 24 hours and 18 minutes of filibuster speaking to prevent a vote on the 1957 Civil Rights Bill. In 1964, He was involved in a fistfight with Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough who tried to drag Thurmond to his committee seat to vote on Civil Rights legislation. In later years, Thurmond tried to deflect criticism by stating in an interview in the Baltimore Sun: "It was my duty [as Governor of South Carolina] to enforce segregation laws. After the laws changed, I changed." Thurmond was the first Senator to hire an African American for his staff and voted in favor of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Despite this, he is still disliked by some African Americans. In 1996, Thurmond was one of three recipients of a lifetime contribution award from the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), an organization comprised of presidents and ranking administrators of the nation's historic African American universities. When William Clay and Louis Stokes, two senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus found out that Thurmond was being honored, they refused to accept the award.

Committees and Chairmanships

Senator Thurmond served on the Armed Services, Appropriations, Banking and Currency, Commerce, Judiciary, and Veterans Affairs committees in the Senate and was the chair of the Judiciary Committee after the Republican Party became the majority party in 1981. When the Democrats captured the Senate in 1986, he became the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. He also served as President Pro Tempore of the Senate from 1981-1987 and began another term in 1995. He was also chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Personal Information

Thurmond married for the first time at age 47 to one of his 21 year-old secretaries, Jean Crouch. In 1968, at age 66, eight years after his first wife's death from cancer, he married Nancy Moore, a 25 year-old former Miss South Carolina. They had four children before amicably separating in 1991.

Further Reading

A biography of Strom Thurmond was written by Alberta Lachicotte, Rebel Senator (1967). A chapter in Robert Sherrill, Gothic Politics in the Deep South (1968) is devoted to him. He has published The Faith We Have Not Kept (1968) and, with David Cartright, Unions in the Military (1977). Additional information is available on the World Wide Web (circa 1997) at and □

Thurmond, Strom

views updated May 21 2018

Strom Thurmond

Born James Strom Thurmond, December 5, 1902, in Edgefield, SC; died of natural causes, June 26, 2003, in Edgefield, SC. Politician. Former U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond died in June of 2003, just months after his historic record as a 47–year member of Congress ended with his retirement. The South Carolina Republican was once a staunch segregationist, but modified his views as civil–rights legislation went into effect across the land in the 1960s. "Times change and people change, and people who can't change don't stay in office long," Washington Post obituary writer J. Y. Smith quoted him as saying.

Born in Edgefield, South Carolina, in 1902, Thurmond was the son of a judge and grew up in a town that produced many of the state's governors. He earned a horticulture degree from the forerunner of Clemson University in 1923, and began his career as a teacher and coach before winning his first political race as superintendent of Edgefield county schools in 1928. After studying on his own to pass the state bar exam, he served as county attorney for Edgefield from 1930 to 1938. He also spent part of the decade in the state house and as an appellate judge.

After returning from World War II a decorated veteran who took part in the D–Day invasion of France, Thurmond immediately re–entered politics in his home state. He was a Democrat during this first half of his long political career. In the years after the American Civil War, the party was firmly associated with white Southern political power, and Thurmond courted votes by taking up the issue of segregation of the races, but once in office often acted more progressively. Elected South Carolina governor in 1946, he put one of the toughest prosecutors in the state on a 1947 lynching case involving 28 whites who had killed a black man.

Perhaps the most infamous period in Thurmond's political career came during the 1948 presidential race. Incumbent Democrat Harry S Truman had recently enacted civil–rights reforms, including a historic desegregation of the armed forces, that were vehemently opposed by many white Southerners. At that year's Democratic National Convention, many Southern delegates walked out when calls were made to adopt civil–rights reform as a plank in the party's platform. Thurmond joined the breakaway group, called the States' Rights Democratic Party, and was nominated as its candidate for the White House. The "Dixiecrat" party, as it was called, staunchly opposed desegregation efforts and federal measures that would force all states to comply. Speaking on behalf of Southerners, Thurmond asserted that "all the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches, and our places of recreation and amusement," the New York Times writer Adam Clymer quoted him as saying.

Thurmond and the Dixiecrats won a million popular votes, 39 electoral ones, and placed third in the race, but it did not fail to return Truman to the White House. Over the next decade, Thurmond remained a strong opponent of court rulings and federal laws that attempted to desegregate the South. His stance, he asserted, was not based on any personal racial bias, but rather against federal involvement in state matters. With his gubernatorial term set to expire in 1951, Thurmond entered South Carolina's 1950 Senate race, but lost. He won a seat four years later as write–in candidate, making him the first and only U.S. Senator to enter the chamber as a write–in candidate. As the civil–rights struggle gained momentum, Thurmond responded with vigor, once speaking on the Senate floor for more than 24 hours straight in a filibuster to delay voting, but the first federal civil rights bill since 1875 passed anyway.

Thurmond decamped to the Republican Party in 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the historic Civil Rights Act into law that year. "The party of our fathers is dead," the New York Times obituary by Clymer quoted Thurmond as saying. Within a few years, however, Thurmond was also courting minority voters himself. Recognizing that the 1965 Voting Rights Act gave new political power to blacks in the South and that the white hold on political power in the South was eroding, he became one of the first Southern senators to hire an African American on his staff in 1971. Thurmond was elected to the Senate seven more times after his 1954 write–in bid, usually by strong margins. He began his last six–year term in early 1997, returning to his seat as chair of the Senate Armed Services. Previously, he had chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee and served as president pro tempore of the Senate. He sponsored few important bills during his career, but was known as a champion "pork–barrel" politician, able to secure federal funds for his home state. The final day of his career in Congress arrived on November 19, 2002 and, in honor of his service, Thurmond was given the gavel and allowed to preside over the Senate that day, though his party did not have the majority at the time. He closed the year's session with the words, "That's all," according to Clymer in the New York Times.

Thurmond died at age 100 on June 26, 2003, of natural causes in his hometown of Edgefield. Among many of the other records he held, one ended that day: Thurmond was the last living American politician elected by veterans of U.S. Civil War, which came during his 1928 run for Edgefield County school superintendent. He was widowed in 1960 when his spouse of 20–some years, Jean Crouch, in died of cancer. Eight years later Thurmond wed former Miss South Carolina Nancy Moore, with whom he had four children. Three survived him, and six months after Thurmond's death a 78–year–old California woman stepped forward to admit that she was Thurmond's daughter as well. The incident was a final coda on one of America's most revered and once–jeered politicians, for Essie Mae Washington–Williams was the product of a liaison between a 22–year–old Thurmond and the African–American maid in his parents' home.


Chicago Tribune, June 26, 2003, sec. 1, p. 1;, (June 27, 2003); (June 27, 2003); Independent (London, England), June 28, 2003, p. 20; Los Angeles Times, June 27, 2003, p. A1; July 1, 2003, p. A2; New York Times, June 28, 2003, p. A13; July 1, 2003, p. A2; December 20, 2003, p. A1; People, July 14, 2003, p. 123; Washington Post, June 27, 2003, p. A1.


Thurmond, James Strom

views updated Jun 27 2018


James Strom Thurmond began serving as U.S. senator from South Carolina in 1954; when he died at the age of one hundred in 2003, he was the oldest and longest-serving senator in U.S. history. An outspoken opponent of federal civil rights legislation for most of his career, Thurmond softened his views in the 1970s. He remained a controversial political figure, however, until the end.

Thurmond was born on December 5, 1902, in Edgefield, South Carolina. Thurmond's father, John William Thurmond, was an attorney who served as county prosecutor and later as U.S. district attorney. He was also a powerful political leader in Edgefield County. Strom, as he preferred to be called, graduated from Clemson University in 1923. He was a teacher and athletic coach in several South Carolina school districts before becoming superintendent of education for Edgefield County in 1929.

While serving as superintendent, Thurmond studied law under his father, who had become a state judge. In 1930, Thurmond was admitted to

the South Carolina bar. He became a full-time attorney in 1933 and soon became county attorney. It was then that Thurmond decided to pursue a political career. He was elected as a state senator in 1933, serving until 1938, when he gave up his office to accept an appointment as a state circuit judge. He took a leave of absence in 1942 to serve with the 82nd Airborne Division during world war ii.

On his return to South Carolina, Thurmond resumed his political career. He was elected governor in 1947, serving until 1951. Thurmond believed, as most southern Democrats did, that state-enforced racial segregation was legitimate public policy and that the federal government had no authority to end it. At the 1948 national democratic party convention, southern Democrats on the platform committee removed President harry s. truman's proposals for civil rights legislation. When the convention, under the leadership of hubert h. humphrey, restored Truman's proposals, many southern Democrats, including Thurmond, walked out of the convention and started a splinter party, the States' Rights Democratic party. It was popularly known as the Dixiecrat party.

"I don't know how I got such a reputation as a segregationist. … I guess it was because when I was the governor of South Carolina it was my duty to uphold the law and the law required segregation, so I was just doing my duty."
Strom Thurmond

The Dixiecrats nominated Thurmond to run for president in the 1948 election. President Truman won the election, winning 28. Republican nominee thomas e. dewey won 16 states, and Thurmond won four southern states, the third largest independent electoral vote in U.S. history. Thurmond left the governorship in 1951 and resumed the practice of law in Aiken, South Carolina. In 1954, he was elected to the U.S. Senate as a write-in candidate, the first person ever to be elected to the Senate or any other major office by this method. He took the unusual step of resigning in April 1956 to fulfill a 1954 campaign promise that he would allow a referendum on his service in two years. He was reelected in November 1956 and again in 1960, 1966, 1972, 1978, 1984, 1990, and 1996.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Thurmond was a leading opponent of federal civil rights legislation and social welfare programs. His opposition to the civil rights act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000a et seq.) and President Lyndon B. Johnson's policies led Thurmond in 1964 to switch to the republican party. Changing political parties is always unusual for political leaders, but it was especially so for Thurmond. The Democratic Party dominated the southern states, making them virtually one-party states. Thurmond's defection to the Republican Party was a significant act, signaling a major shift in political power in the South that would accelerate in the 1970s and 1980s.

For much of his Senate career, Thurmond served on the Armed Services Committee, the Judiciary Committee, and the Veterans' Affairs Committee. From 1981 to 1987 he was chair of the Judiciary Committee, where he helped President ronald reagan secure Senate confirmation of his judicial appointments. During this period he was also president pro tempore of the Senate. The president pro tempore presides over the Senate when the vice president is absent. From 1988 to 1996 Thurmond chaired the Armed Services Committee.

Thurmond served as adjunct professor of political science at Clemson and distinguished lecturer at its Strom Thurmond Institute. His name has been attached to many public buildings, highways, and other public works in South Carolina.

After Thurmond's 1996 reelection, he announced he would not run again but would finish out his term. In 1997, at age 94, Thurmond, who had served in office during the terms of ten U.S. presidents, became the longest-serving senator in U.S. history. In 2001, Thurmond, who had been hospitalized several times, took up permanent residence at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In 2002, South Carolinians elected Republican Lindsey Graham to replace Thurmond, whose term expired in January 2003.

A nostalgic reference to Thurmond's past became the subject of controversy when staffers and friends held a 100th birthday party for him in December 2002. At the party, which was attended by numerous current and former staff, legislators, and lobbyists, Republican Majority Leader trent lott hailed Thurmond and stated that if others had followed the example of Mississippi and voted Thurmond president in 1948, the country "wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years." Lott's remark about the days of the Dixiecrats and the platform of segregation proved so controversial that Lott was forced to resign his position as majority leader. Thurmond was in such frail health that it was unclear whether he was aware of the impact of the event. His health failed to improve over the next several months, leading to his

death on June 26, 2003, in Edgefield, South Carolina.

further readings

Bass, Jack, and Marilyn W. Thompson. 1998. Ol' Strom: An Unauthorized Biography of Strom Thurmond. Atlanta: Longstreet.

Butterfield, Fox. 1995. All God's Children. New York: Knopf.

Cohodas, Nadine. 1994. Strom Thurmond & the Politics of Southern Change. Atlanta: Mercer Univ. Press.

"Strom Thurmond." 2003. Special Report. Available online at <> (accessed December 16, 2003).