Thurmond, Strom

▪ 2004

      American politician (b. Dec. 5, 1902, Edgefield, S.C.—d. June 26, 2003, Edgefield), was the longest-serving senator (1954–2003) in U.S. history and came to personify the changing political landscape of the South. After graduating from Clemson (S.C.) College (now Clemson University) in 1923, he studied law with his father and was admitted to the bar in 1930. He later served as state senator (1933–38) and circuit court judge (1938–41) before serving (1942–46) in the army; by the end of World War II, he was a highly decorated lieutenant colonel. Elected governor of South Carolina in 1946, Thurmond supported a number of progressive measures, including the improvement of African American schools and equal pay for women. In 1948 he gained national attention as the leader of a group of Southern democrats who broke with the Democratic Party over civil rights. They formed the States' Rights Democratic Party—popularly known as the Dixiecrats—and adopted a segregation platform, with Thurmond as their presidential candidate. Although Thurmond lost, he captured 39 electoral votes, and the election marked the beginning decline in Southern white voters' support of the Democratic Party. After his governorship ended in 1950, Thurmond ran for the U.S. Senate but was unsuccessful. He easily won his bid in 1954, however, and became the first person elected to the Senate as a write-in candidate. He quickly aligned himself with other Southern conservatives, supporting increased military spending and denouncing civil rights legislation; in 1957 Thurmond staged a one-man filibuster, speaking on the Senate floor for more than 24 hours, to delay the passage of a civil rights bill. After Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson oversaw the enactment of the Civil Rights Act (1964), an angered Thurmond switched to the Republican Party, and in 1968 he helped Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon win the White House. By the early 1970s, however, as integration and civil rights became inevitable, Thurmond changed his stance, hiring African Americans to serve on his staff and courting the African American vote.

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▪ United States senator
born December 5, 1902, Edgefield, South Carolina, U.S.
died June 26, 2003, Edgefield
 American politician, a prominent states' rights and segregation advocate who ran for the presidency in 1948 on the Dixiecrat ticket and was one of the longest-serving senators in U.S. history (1954–2003).

      After graduating (1923) from Clemson College (now Clemson University) in South Carolina, Thurmond taught school until 1929, when he became superintendent of education for Edgefield county. During this time he also began studying law and in 1930 was admitted to the bar. He then served as a city and county attorney until 1938 and was also a state senator (1933–38) and a circuit court judge (1938–41). Thurmond emerged from his military service in World War II a highly decorated lieutenant colonel. He was elected governor of South Carolina in 1946 and proceeded to initiate several liberal reforms, including a notable expansion of the state educational system. At the Democratic National Convention of 1948, however, Thurmond led the bolt of Southern delegates angry over the civil rights plank in the party platform. The Southerners formed the States' Rights Democratic Party—popularly known as the Dixiecrats (Dixiecrat)—and nominated Thurmond as their presidential candidate. He won 39 electoral votes.

      Elected by write-in vote to the Senate in 1954, Thurmond quickly established himself in the Southern conservative mold as a vigorous champion of increased military power and spending and an archfoe of civil rights legislation. He was reelected in 1960, but in 1964 he again left the Democratic Party in support of the conservative Republican presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater (Goldwater, Barry). Reelected as a Republican to seven consecutive terms, Thurmond continued to seek Southern conservative support for the GOP. In 1996 he became the oldest person to serve in Congress and the following year became the longest-serving U.S. senator; he held the latter distinction until 2006, when he was surpassed by Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia.

      Soon after Thurmond's death it was revealed that at the age of 22 he had fathered a daughter out of wedlock. The mother was a 16-year-old African American maid who worked for his family.

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Universalium. 2010.

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