Ol? Strom: An Unauthorized Biography of Strom ThurmondStrom Thurmond, born in Edgefield, South Carolina in 1902, has held his Senate seat longer than any other senator in history. His views and tactics are either loved or hated; rarely is their middle ground. To some, he?s the champion of the ?Southern Way?, to others; he?s a white supremacist in ?league with the Devil himself?. It is the purpose of this paper to outline his political career and comment on some of the ways in which he influence southern politics.
Strom began his political career when he ran for the office of County Superintendent of Education in 1928 (39). As a teacher, he had plans to improve the quality of education for the county, goal he carried with him for all of South Carolina later in his career. Shortly after in 1930, he passed the bar exam having studied after hours with a friend at his father?s law firm (43).
He ran for and was elected as Edgefield County?s State Senator in 1932 (43). At this time, the state legislature elected and appointed judges. Because Thurmond had passed the bar, he put his name in the running for circuit court judge. He was appointed to this position in 1938, becoming South Carolina?s youngest judge (51). Thurmond found this appointment appealing due to the amount of traveling involved. A circuit court judge made a ?circuit? of all the counties of the state during the term. This gave Strom a unique opportunity to campaign for a higher office.
During his first term as judge, Strom took a 4-year leave of absence to serve in the Army during WWII. He enlisted in 1942 just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor (69). During this period, he was well decorated. Among others, he was bestowed the Purple Heart, the French Croix Guerre, the Belgian Order of the Crown, 5 Battle Stars and the Bronze Star (76). While he was serving, he was re-elected as circuit court judge in absentia in 1945. Later that same year, he was discharged (77).
Becoming more and more politically ambitious, Thurmond ran for state governor in 1946. Having been snubbed by the ?Barnwell ring?, he ran with heavy campaigning against them and won (80-82). As governor of South Carolina, The issues of desegregation and state?s rights were forefront in the political arena. In an attempt to put (or keep, depending on personal opinion) the desegregation issue into the hand of the states, Strom ran for President as the nominee of the ?Dixiecrats? hoping to force the election between Truman and Dewey into the House. While the Dixiecrats carried the south, they were ultimately defeated in the 1948 Presidential Election in which Truman was elected (97-115).
Not giving up, Strom set his sights on a Senate seat in 1950. He lost to Johnston and returned to his law practice until 1954 (131). At this time, The Democratic candidate for the Senate seat unexpectedly died. Strom launched an extensive write-in campaign for the seat. He published instruction sheets on how to write in his name and campaigned heavily. In this campaign, he pledged to resign after two years since. It paid off; Strom was elected to the Senate by an unprecedented write-in vote, a feat never before done or since repeated. He resigned the seat after two years, keeping a campaign promise to do so, but ran again when the next election came around. He won and has been the Senator for South Carolina ever since (155).
Over the course of the next decade or so, Thurmond became more and more dissatisfied with the direction of the Democratic Party. He had stayed with them, however, because South Carolina, and indeed much of the south, voted predominately Democratic. In a bold move, Strom switched to the Republican Party, detailing how his views and theirs had merged through the years. For the Senate Race, it proved to be Strom that the people wanted more than the party affiliation. His 1964 switch of parties didn?t keep him from being re-elected time and time again (189-205).
Indeed, Strom Thurmond has had great influence on the politics of the South. It would be impossible, without writing another book, to detail all of his contributions, positive and negative. Here, we will examine a few of the important ones. Strom has always been a proponent of good education for all people in his state. While this sounds like a non-racist view, in Strom?s case, it really wasn?t. Strom put forth that, in effect, the over all education of South Carolina was being held back by illiterate Negroes and worked hard to alleviate this problem. He launched special programs for adult Negroes early in his career, teaching the black population to at least be able to sign their name for the next census. No on can argue that this, of course, is an improvement; it was the attitude with which it was offered that makes the racist statement. Strom, like some racists of the time, had an ?aristocratic? view of the black man: whites were superior due the innate childlike capacity of the blacks. An almost paternal attitude was taken to help out the ?poor Negro? (128-129).
Perhaps the boldest move in Strom?s career was to be the Presidential Nominee for the Democratic faction called the Dixiecrats. While those of us, looking back on history, can clearly see that the issues that created this faction were racist views, Strom and his party were campaigning on the issues of State vs. Federal rights. This was at a time when desegregation was beginning. Strom strongly felt that this was a ?personal? decision that should be handled by each state as they saw fit. His reason for reeling this way is that he, and many of the people he represented, didn?t want desegregation. He firmly believed that the races should be held separate. In essence, his party?s firm stance forced the hand of the Supreme Court. Our current Civil Rights laws came about, in part, from the negative influence of Strom and his Dixiecrats.
Again, in response to a race issue, Strom launched another unprecedented political act. Having participated in an eight day Filibuster with other like-minded senators, Strom began his one-man filibuster at 8:45 PM on August 28th, 1957. He spoke out against the proposed Civil Rights Bill and was trying to keep it from passing. After speaking for 24 hours, Thurmond stepped down. He had set a record for the longest filibuster, which still stands today. Even so, he might as well have not spoken: the bill was passed 60-15.
Lyndon Johnson put forth Abe Fortas as a Supreme Court Justice nominee. Strom, being a staunch opponent of Johnson, immediately attacked his choice. It is unclear if Strom really did find offense with Fortas or if he was just ?playing the political game?. Nonetheless, Strom found three initial reasons why Fortas was unacceptable; 1) Fortas apparently had a reputation for ?fixing? cases for clients, 2) He was involved with the ?radical wing of the Court? and 3) Strom put forth that Fortas repeatedly made decisions that would extend the Federal rights over those of the States?, allowing criminals to go free on technicalities. After several days of voluntary congressional questioning, involving hounding by Thurmond, he withdrew his name from the nomination (207-216).
Throwing his support behind Nixon, Strom was able to use his influence to hold the South for him and ensure the Republican Party nomination for the 1964 Presidential race. He supported Nixon due to his stance of ?freedom of choice? in which the student would choose what school to attend. Under this, no white students chose to attend black school and few black students were up to facing the intimidation if they chose a white school. This program would maintain the status quo, certainly, and never mind that Supreme Court decisions had already decided on enforced desegregation (219-232).
No one can deny that Strom Thurmond has had an influence on Southern Politics as well as the politics of the nation in general. To what extent that that influence reaches and how it has affected the nation, however, is open to debate. One must admit, whether friend of foe, Thurmond has always represented the feelings and choices of the people that elected him. South Carolina and the views of the majority have always been the forefront of Storm?s concerns. In that aspect, he has been a good Senator for the State.
Bibliography Bass, Jack, and Marilyn W. Thompson. Ol? Strom: An Unauthorized Biography of Strom Thurmond. Marietta, Georgia: Longstreet Press, Inc, 1998.