Thurmond, James Strom
Longtime US Senator from South Carolina, who holds the record for the greatest number of years served in the US Senate, and also the distinction of being the oldest US Senator to serve. Thurmond rose to political prominence when he became the Democratic Governor of South Carolina in 1947. In the 1948 Presidential election, Southern Democrats walked out of the Democratic convention because of the party's pro-civil rights platform, and nominated Thurmond to run under the "Dixiecrat" party banner, against President Harry Truman, NY Gov. Thomas E. Dewey and former VP Henry A. Wallace. Thurmond did not win the election, but he did secure the electoral votes of several Southern states. In 1954, he won a special election to replace the deceased Sen. Burnet Maybank in the Senate by running a write-in campaign. To this day, he is the only person to have won a Senate seat by write-in. However, in 1956, he resigned to fulfill his campaign promise to run in a contested primary with his name on the ballot. He won the special election to replace himself.
In the sixties, as a protest against President Lyndon Johnson's backing of civil rights, Thrumond, an ardent segregationist, switched to the Republican party. Meanwhile, he continued winning elections, in 1960, 1966, 1972, 1978, 1984, 1990 and 1996. Toward the end of his life, it was said that he softened his segregationist views and hired more blacks to serve on his staff. Some argue that this was simply a political move, and that Thurmond was still the same man.
He declined to run for re-election in 2002,and his long term came to an end in January 2003. He was already 100 years old. But even in the twilight of his career, Thurmond proved to have substantial influence, effecting major change in the US Senate (though he in no way intended it to happen). During his 100th birthday party, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) praised Thurmond for his service and his views, and said that had Thrumond (and by extension his segregationist platform) won out in 1948, the country would be better off. Lott was soon met with accusations of racism, and was forced to resign from his leadership post.
Thurmond died in June 2003, and it was soon revealed that he had fathered a black child. Essie Mae Washington-Williams exercised extraordinary and undeserved kindness towards her biological father and his family by waiting until after Thurmond's death at age 100 in 2003, to announce that she was the daughter of Thurmond and an African-American woman who had worked as a maid in his family's house. She had only learned the truth of her paternity when she was 16. Three years before she learned that her biological mother was actually her aunt Aunt Carrie. The Thrumond family "graciously" admitted that there was a financial deal to keep the illegitimate child secret.
To many conservative white Southerners oblivious to the shame of racial discrimination and ruling class hypocrisy, Thurmond's legacy is that a political giant and a tireless public servant. The rest of America understands what he was really was.
- Essie Mae Washington-Williams. "Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond." ISBN: 0060760958.
- Kari Frederickson. 2001. "The Dixiecrat Revolt and the End of the Solid South, 1932-1968." University of North Carolina Press. ISBN: 0807825948