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Strom Thurmond

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Strom Thurmond Photo: Library of Congress.

Born:

December 5, 1902 in Edgefield, South Carolina.

Died:

June 26, 2003 in Edgefield, South Carolina.

Historical Significance:

In 1948, President Harry Truman alienated racist Southern Democrats by integrating the U.S. Armed Forces and delivering a landmark speech on civil rights. Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, a noted white separatist, joined forces with other segregationist Democrats to run on the national Dixiecrat ticket, an act that he described as a "five-yard penalty" against Truman and the national Democratic Party. Thurmond carried four traditionally Democratic states - Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina — but Truman decisively won the presidential election anyway, defeating both Thurmond and Republican nominee Thomas Dewey. Thurmond then turned his attention to the U.S. Senate, where he was elected in a 1956 write-in campaign and went on to serve 48 consecutive years—making him the third longest-serving senator in U.S. history. Conventional wisdom to the contrary notwithstanding, Thurmond never apologized for his segregationist past.

In His Own Words:

"They talk about breaking down the laws which knowledge and experience of many years have proven to be essential to the protection of the racial integrity and purity of the white and Negro races alike … As a nation we have favored the protection of racial autonomy and integrity in other lands, such as Palestine and India, but a different doctrine is sought to be applied here at home." — from a speech delivered before the Southern Governors Conference in Wakulla Springs, Florida on February 7, 1948.

"We have gathered here today because the American system of free constitutional government is in danger … [A]ll the laws of Washington, and all the bayonets of the Army, cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches, and our places of recreation." — from a speech delivered in Jackson, Mississippi on May 10, 1948.

"Truman has forced himself on the Democratic Party, but he cannot force himself on the people of this great country … I want to tell you that the progress of the N***a race has not been due to these so-called 'emancipators'; it's been due to the kindness of the good Southern people … But I want to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there's not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the n****r race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches." — from his speech accepting the Dixiecrat presidential nomination at the the Southern Democrats Convention in Birmingham, Alabama on July 17, 1948.

"If you people in New York want no segregation, then abolish it and do away with your Harlem. Personally, I think it would be a mistake." — from a speech delivered to the Overseas Press Club in New York City on October 6, 1948.

You Might Not Know...:

In early 1925, when Thurmond was 22 years old, his family maid, a black 15-year-old named Carrie Butler, became pregnant. Butler's child, Essie Washington, did not learn that her father was Strom Thurmond until 1941, and did not reveal the secret publicly until after his death. Rumors circulated in South Carolina regarding Thurmond's biracial child, rumors that Thurmond—even during the height of his career as a national white separatist leader—did not make much effort to deny. Washington's autobiography, Dear Senator (2005), was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Timeline:

1902
Thurmond is born.

1930
Appointed town attorney of Edgefield.

1933
Elected to the South Carolina State Senate.

1938
Elected as judge of South Carolina's 11th Circuit, which required him to resign from the Senate.

1942
Enlists in the U.S. Army, where he would go on to earn a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Croix de Guerre, and more than a dozen other awards due to his participation in World War II.

1947
Elected governor of South Carolina.

1948
Runs for President of the United States under the umbrella of the State's Rights Democratic Party (better known as the Dixiecrats), winning four states.

1954
Runs successfully for the U.S. Senate representing South Carolina, where he will go on to serve for 48 years.

1957
Sets a record for the longest filibuster in U.S. Senate history, speaking consistently for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an effort to delay passage of civil rights legislation. The record still stands to this day.

1964
In protest against the Civil Rights Act, Thurmond leaves the Democratic Party and joins the Republican Party, where he remains for the duration of his career.

1972
Requests that the Nixon administration deport John Lennon due to his political views, as "a strategy counter-measure" against Lennon's possible support for George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election. Nixon found Thurmond's suggestion appealing, and initiated deportation proceedings against Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono.

2002
Strom Thurmond is praised by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) at his 100th birthday party, where Lott remarks that "we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years" if Thurmond had been elected president in 1948, an implicit endorsement of white separatist ideology. Controversy over the remarks effectively ends Lott's career as a national politician.

2003
Thurmond dies.
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