Strom Thurmond

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Strom Thurmond
Strom Thurmond

James Strom Thurmond (December 5, 1902June 26, 2003) represented South Carolina in the United States Senate from 1954 to April 1956 and November 1956 to 1964 as a Democrat and from 1964 to 2003 as a Republican. He served as Senator through his 90s, and left office at age 100. He left office as the longest-serving senator ever, but will likely be passed by Robert Byrd should he win reelection in 2006 and serve out a full term.


Early career

After attending Clemson College (now Clemson University) and graduating in 1923, Thurmond joined the United States Army Reserve in 1924; on D-Day, 1944 he landed in Normandy with the 82nd Airborne Division. For his military service, he earned 18 decorations, medals and awards, including the Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, Bronze Star Medal with Valor device, Purple Heart, World War II Victory Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Belgium Order of the Crown, and the French Croix de Guerre.

Thurmond's political career extended from the days of Jim Crow, when he was a strong supporter of racial segregation as a Southern Democrat. He was elected Governor of South Carolina in 1947 and worked hard to preserve the state's existing segregation laws.

In the 1948 election he was a candidate for President of the United States on the third party ticket of the States Rights Democratic Party, also and better known as the Dixiecrat Party, which had split from the Democrats over the issue of segregation. Thurmond carried four states and received 39 electoral votes. His primary campaign platform was the perpetuation of segregation. One 1948 speech, met with cheers by supporters, included the following:

"I wanna 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 nigger race into our theaters, into our spring pools, into our homes, and into our churches."
— (Click here for audio clip, 163KB MP3 file)

Senate career

In 1954 he became the only person ever to be elected to the Senate as a write-in candidate. He resigned in 1956 to fulfill a pledge of his write-in campaign to face a contested primary, won the primary, and was elected to the Senate vacancy caused by his resignation. The rest of his career in the Senate remained uninterrupted until his retirement 46 years later, despite his mid-career party switch.

Thurmond supported racial segregation with the longest filibuster ever on the Senate floor, speaking for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an unsuccessful attempt to derail the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He began by reading the entire text of each state's election laws.

On September 16, 1964; Thurmond switched his party affiliation, becoming a Republican in protest of the Democrats' support and President Johnson's shepherding of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Thurmond played an important role in building Republican support in the South, which was overwhelmingly Democrat prior to the early 1960s. He campaigned on behalf of Richard Nixon to support the Republicans' Southern Strategy, undoubtedly bringing in Southern voters who otherwise would have voted for segregationalist candidate George Wallace in the 1968 election.

In the 1970s, many believe that Thurmond had a change of heart and endorsed integration earlier than many other southern politicians. Some believe this change of policy was a calculated political move designed to extend his Senate career in a changing social environment. In 2004, the Washington Post reported that a Thurmond staffer advised him to abandon his segregationist views after one of his proteges, Albert Watson was badly defeated in a race for governor of South Carolina. Watson ran what many consider to be the last openly racist campaign in South Carolina, and Thurmond had strongly supported him. Regardless of his motivations, he would later hire black staffers, enroll his daughter in an integrated public school, and support blacks for federal judgeships.

On December 5, 1996, Thurmond became the oldest serving member of the U.S. Senate, and on May 25, 1997, he became the longest serving member (41 years and 10 months). He cast his 15,000th vote in September 1998. He became President Pro Tem of the Senate in 1981, and held the largely ceremonial post for three terms, alternating with his longtime rival Robert Byrd depending on the partisan composition of the Senate.

There was some controversy towards the end of Thurmond's Senate career over his mental condition. Some, including some close friends, claimed that he had lost mental acuity and should not have been serving in the Senate. Concern was also raised whenever he served as president pro tem of the Senate, which is third in line for the presidency. However, his supporters claimed that, while he lacked physical stamina due to his age, mentally he remained aware and attentive and maintained a very active work schedule in showing up for every floor vote. Thurmond did not seek re-election in 2002. Note that while he was the oldest serving Senator, he was not the longest-lived individual to have served in the Senate. This honor is reserved for the scarcely-known Cornelius Cole, who reached 102 in 1924.

Strom Thurmond left the Senate in January of 2003, as America's longest-serving senator. On June 26, 2003, he died at 9:45 p.m at a hospital in his hometown of Edgefield, where he had been living since retiring.

Shortly after Thurmond's death, on December 14, 2003, Essie Mae Washington-Williams publicly revealed that she was Strom Thurmond's illegitimate daughter, ending a long agreement to conceal the fact. She was born to a black maid in the family household, Carrie Butler, on October 12, 1925, when Butler was 16 and Thurmond was 22. After Ms. Washington-Williams came forward, the Thurmond family publicly acknowledged her parentage. Supposedly many close friends and staff members had long expected this or something like it to have been the case, stating that Thurmond had long seemed to take a great amount of interest in Ms. Washington-Williams and that she was granted a degree of access to the Senator more appropriate to a family member than to a member of the public or a political ally.

Lott controversy

Controversy ensued on December 5, 2002 when incoming Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott remarked at Thurmond's 100th birthday party:

I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.

Lott shortly afterward made several public apologies for the statement, and said that it was said as an off-the-cuff compliment to Thurmond on his birthday and not an endorsement of any certain policy that Thurmond supported 50 years ago, trying to separate his enthusiam for Thurmond as a person from being construed as an unqualified endorsement of all of the policies which had been advocated by Thurmond in the past. Lott, who was slated to become Senate Majority Leader due to Republican gains in the 2002 elections, subsequently announced on December 20, 2002 that he would not run for the post as a result of the public furor created by his statements concerning Thurmond.

Political timeline

  • Governor of South Carolina (1947-1951)
  • States Rights Democratic presidential candidate (1948)
  • Eight-term Senator of South Carolina, USA (December 1954-April 1956 and November 1956-January 2003)
    • Democrat (1954-April 1956 and November 1956-September 1964)
    • Republican (September 1964-January 2003)
    • President pro tempore (1981-1987; 1995-January 3, 2001; January 20, 2001-June 6, 2001)
    • Set record for the longest Congressional filibuster (1957)
    • Set record for oldest serving member at 94 years (1997)
    • Set record for longest tenure in the Senate at 43 years (1997)
    • Became the only senator ever to serve at the age of 100


  • Was 41 years old when he fought at the Battle of Normandy
  • One of the few contemporary politicians to have received the votes of American Civil War veterans
  • Intervened in 1971 when Reverend Sun Myung Moon had trouble entering the United States
  • Was a Senate colleague of Prescott Bush - the father of U.S. President George H. W. Bush and grandfather of U.S. President George W. Bush
  • Married his last wife, Nancy Janice Moore, in 1968 when he was already 66 years old, and she only 23. It is often said that he ran for president before she was born; this is false, however he was old enough to be eligible. They separated in 1991.
  • Jack Bass and Marilyn W. Thompson, in their 1998 biography, Ol' Strom, reported that Thurmond's first child was Essie Mae Washington-Williams, born in 1925. Her mother was a black servant named Carrie "Tunch" Butler. On December 15, 2003, an attorney for Thurmond's family confirmed that Thurmond had indeed been the father of Ms. Washington-Williams.
  • Fathered his first "legitimate" child in 1971, and his last in 1976 when he was 73 years old
  • Became a grandfather publicly for the first time on June 17, 2003, just nine days before his death. He first became a grandfather privately decades earlier when Ms. Washington-Williams had her first child.
  • Ronald Williams, son of Essie Mae Washington-Williams, claims that he was a registered Republican before Strom Thurmond was.
  • A reservoir on the Georgia-South Carolina border is named after him (See: Lake Strom Thurmond).

External links



Further reading

  • Dear Senator : A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond by Essie Mae Washington-Williams, William Stadiem. 240 pages. Publisher: Regan Books (February 1, 2005). ISBN 0060760958.
  • The Dixiecrat Revolt and the End of the Solid South, 1932-1968 by Kari Frederickson. 328 pages. Publisher: University of North Carolina Press (March 26, 2001). ISBN 0807849103.
  • Ol' Strom: An Unauthorized Biography of Strom Thurmond by Jack Bass (, Marilyn W. Thompson. 368 pages. Publisher: University of South Carolina Press (January 1, 2003). ISBN 1570035148. Chapter one is available online (
  • Strom Thurmond & the Politics of Southern Change by Nadine Cohodas. 574 pages. Publisher: Mercer University Press (December 1, 1994). ISBN 086554446.

Preceded by:
Charles E. Daniel
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from South Carolina
Succeeded by:
Lindsey Graham
Preceded by:
Warren G. Magnuson
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
Succeeded by:
John C. Stennis
Preceded by:
Robert Byrd
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
1995–January 3, 2001
Succeeded by:
Robert Byrd
Preceded by:
Robert Byrd
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
January 20–June 6, 2001
Succeeded by:
Robert Byrd

Template:End boxde:Strom Thurmond fr:Strom Thurmond ja:ストロム・サーモンド nl:Strom Thurmond pl:Strom Thurmond


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