Strom Thurmond Biography

Governor, U.S. Representative(1902–2003)
Strom Thurmond was a U.S. senator known for his pro-segregation policies and long-running tenure in Congress. It was later revealed he had a biracial daughter.

Synopsis

Strom Thurmond was born on December 5, 1902, in Edgefield, South Carolina. After fighting in World War II, he was elected South Carolina governor. Appointed to the Senate in 1954 as a Democrat, he later switched to the Republican Party and was known for his stance against integration, though it was later revealed that he had a biracial daughter. Serving in Congress until age 100, Thurmond died on June 26, 2003.

Early Career

James Strom Thurmond was born on December 5, 1902, in Edgefield, South Carolina. He studied at Clemson University and was a teacher and superintendent of education before, like his father, turning to the law, working as an attorney for his municipality and later becoming a state senator. He subsequently worked as a judge of the state's circuit court from 1938 to 1942.

He served in World War II with the U.S. army as a captain and then lieutenant colonel, receiving medals/honors for his efforts in Europe. Upon his return to the states, Thurmond became Democratic governor of South Carolina from 1947-51.

Elected to Congress

Although relatively progressive as a governor, with a platform that included aid to black educational institutions, fair wages for women and rent control, he was opposed to his party's Civil Rights program and led the walkout of the Southern Democrats at the 1948 convention. He campaigned for the presidency that year under the States' Right Democratic (aka "Dixiecrat") Party, ultimately losing by a large margin to President Harry S. Truman.

Originally appointed a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 1954 under a write-in campaign, he was elected again in 1956; switching to the Republican Party in 1964, he continued to be re-elected for decades, and became a prominent force in the emergence of a conservative Republican Party in the South.

Stance Against Integration

Thurmond helped compose a manifesto signed by a bulk of Southern senators that pushed against the Supreme Court's decision to desegregate public schools as the result of the Brown v. The Board of Education ruling. He also became known for a more than 24-hour filibuster on August 28, 1957 in which he spoke out against a historic bill, which was passed the next day and became known as the 1957 Civil Rights Act.

Thurmond made public statements that advocated staunchly barring African-American citizens from predominantly white establishments during the Civil Rights Movement, though he would later recognize that part of his constituency was African-American due to expansion of voting rights.

100-Year-Old Senator

Thurmond was appointed chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1995, among other posts. He did not contest a Senate seat in 2002, the year he celebrated his 100th birthday. He was the oldest person ever to have served in Congress and was a Senate member longer than anyone else in U.S. history until Robert C. Byrd broke the latter record in 2006.

Thurmond married twice, having wed Jean Crouch in the 1940s. After her death in 1960, he remarried to 22-year-old Nancy Moore in 1968, with the couple having four children and ultimately splitting in the early 1990s.

Biracial Daughter

Strom Thurmond died on June 26, 2003, in the town of his birth. A few months after his death it was revealed that at the age of 22 he had fathered a daughter. The mother was Carrie Butler, who as a 16-year-old African-American domestic worker had a job with his family. Her daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, was introduced to her father during her teens; she received financial support from Thurmond and visited his offices during her life, though she ardently disagreed with his segregationist policies.

Williams later penned the 2005 book Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond. She died on February 4, 2013 at 87 years old.

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