Strom Thurmond, Governor, U.S. Senator

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James Strom Thurmond

Birthdate: (100)
Birthplace: Edgefield, Edgefield County, South Carolina, United States
Death: June 26, 2003 (100)
Edgefield, Edgefield County, South Carolina, United States
Place of Burial: Edgefield, Edgefield, South Carolina, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of John William Thurmond and Eleanor Gertrude Thurmond
Husband of Jean Thurmond and Nancy Janice Thurmond
Father of Essie Mae Washington-Williams; Nancy Moore Thurmond; <private> Thurmond; <private> Whitmer (Thurmond) and Paul Reynolds Thurmond
Brother of John William THURMOND; Allen George THURMOND; Martha Evelyn Thurmond; Mary Eleanor Thurmond and Anna Gertrude Thurmond

Occupation: US Senator, SC Governor
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Strom Thurmond, Governor, U.S. Senator

James Strom Thurmond (December 5, 1902 – June 26, 2003) was an American politician who served as a United States Senator. He also ran for the Presidency of the United States in 1948 as the segregationist States Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrat) candidate, receiving 2.4% of the popular vote and 39 electoral votes. Thurmond later represented South Carolina in the United States Senate from 1954 until 2003, at first as a Democrat and after 1964 as a Republican. He switched out of support for the conservatism of Republican presidential candidate and Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, who shared his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He left office as the only senator to reach the age of 100 while still in office and as the oldest-serving and longest-serving senator in U.S. history (although he was later surpassed in the latter by Robert Byrd). Thurmond holds the record for the longest-serving Dean of the United States Senate in U.S. history at 14 years.

He conducted the longest filibuster ever by a lone senator, in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957, at 24 hours and 18 minutes in length, nonstop. In the 1960s, he continued to fight against civil rights legislation. He always insisted he had never been a racist, but was merely opposed to excessive federal authority. However, he infamously said that "all the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement", while attributing the movement for integration to Communism. Starting in the 1970s, he moderated his position on race, but continued to defend his early segregationist campaigns on the basis of states' rights in the context of Southern society at the time, never fully renouncing his earlier viewpoints.

Six months after Thurmond's death in 2003, it was revealed that at age 22 he had fathered a daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, with his family's African-American maid Carrie Butler, then 16. Although Thurmond never publicly acknowledged his daughter, he paid for her college education and passed other money to her for some time. The Thurmond family acknowledged her.

Early life and career

James Strom Thurmond was born on December 5, 1902, in Edgefield, South Carolina, the son of John William Thurmond (May 1, 1862 – June 17, 1934) and Eleanor Gertrude Strom (July 18, 1870 – January 10, 1958). He attended Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina (now Clemson University), where he was a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. Thurmond graduated in 1923 with a degree in horticulture.

After Thurmond's death in 2003, an attorney for his family confirmed that in 1925, when he was 22, Thurmond fathered a mixed-race daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, with his family's housekeeper, Cassie Butler, then 16 years old. Thurmond paid for the girl's college education and provided other support.

He was a farmer, teacher and athletic coach until 1929, when he was appointed Edgefield County's superintendent of education, serving until 1933. Thurmond studied law with his father and was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1930. He served as the Edgefield Town and County attorney from 1930 to 1938. In 1933 Thurmond was elected to the South Carolina Senate and represented Edgefield until he was elected to the Eleventh Circuit judgeship.

World War II

In 1942, after the U.S. formally entered World War II, Judge Thurmond resigned from the bench to serve in the U.S. Army, rising to Lieutenant Colonel. In the Battle of Normandy (June 6 – August 25, 1944), he landed in a glider attached to the 82nd Airborne Division. For his military service, he received 18 decorations, medals and awards, including the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star with Valor device, Purple Heart, World War II Victory Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Belgium's Order of the Crown and France's Croix de Guerre.

During 1954–55 he was president of the Reserve Officers Association. He retired from the U.S. Army Reserves with the rank of Major General.

Governor of South Carolina

Thurmond's political career began in the days of Jim Crow laws, when South Carolina strongly resisted any attempts at integration. Running as a Democrat, Thurmond was elected Governor of South Carolina in 1946, largely on the promise of making state government more transparent and accountable by weakening the power of a group of politicians from Barnwell, which Thurmond dubbed the Barnwell Ring led by House Speaker Solomon Blatt. Thurmond was considered a progressive for much of his term, in large part due to his influence in arresting all those responsible for the lynch mob murder of Willie Earle. Though none of the men were found guilty by the jury, Thurmond was congratulated by the NAACP and the ACLU for his efforts.

Run for President

In 1948, President Harry S. Truman desegregated the U.S. Army, proposed the creation of a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission, supported the elimination of state poll taxes, and supported drafting federal anti-lynching laws. Thurmond became a candidate for President of the United States on the third party ticket of the States' Rights Democratic Party. It split from the national Democrats over what was perceived as federal intervention in the segregation practices of the Southern states, which, among other issues, had largely disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites by constitutional amendments and electoral requirements from 1890 to 1910. Thurmond carried four states and received 39 electoral votes. 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 swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.

Early runs for Senate

As Thurmond was constitutionally barred from seeking a second term as governor in 1950, he mounted a Democratic primary challenge against first-term U.S. Senator Olin Johnston. Both candidates denounced President Truman during the campaign. Johnston defeated Thurmond 186,180 votes to 158,904 votes (54% to 46%). It was the only statewide election Thurmond lost.

In 1952, Thurmond endorsed Republican Dwight Eisenhower for the Presidency, rather than the Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson. This led state Democratic Party leaders to block Thurmond from receiving the nomination to the Senate in 1954, forcing him to run as a write-in candidate.

Senate career


Incumbent U.S. Senator Burnet R. Maybank was unopposed for re-election in 1954, but died in September of that year. Democratic leaders hurriedly appointed state Senator Edgar A. Brown, a member of the Barnwell Ring, as the party's nominee to replace Maybank. Widespread criticism of the party's failure to elect the nominee in a primary led to Thurmond announcing that he would mount a write-in campaign. He campaigned, at the recommendation of Governor James Byrnes, on a pledge that he would resign in 1956 to trigger a contested primary. Thurmond won overwhelmingly, becoming the first person to be elected to the U.S. Senate as a write-in candidate against ballot-listed opponents. Following through on his campaign promise, he resigned in 1956 and then won the Democratic primary—in those days, the real contest in South Carolina—for the special election triggered by his own vacancy. His career in the Senate remained uninterrupted until his retirement 46 years later, despite his mid-career party switch.

Thurmond vehemently supported racial segregation with the longest filibuster ever conducted by a single senator, speaking for a total of 24 hours and 18 minutes in an unsuccessful attempt to derail the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Cots were brought in from a nearby hotel for the legislators to sleep on while Thurmond discussed increasingly irrelevant and obscure topics, including his grandmother's biscuit recipe. Other Southern senators, who had agreed as part of a compromise not to filibuster this bill, were upset with Thurmond because they thought his defiance made them look incompetent to their constituents.

According to journalist Jeff Sharlet, he was a member of the Family (also known as the Fellowship), described by prominent evangelical Christians as one of the most politically well connected Christian organizations in the U.S.


Throughout the 1960s, Thurmond generally received relatively low marks from the press and his fellow senators in the performance of his Senate duties, as he often missed votes and rarely proposed or sponsored noteworthy legislation.

Thurmond was increasingly at odds with the Democratic Party. On September 16, 1964, he switched his party affiliation to Republican. He played an important role in South Carolina's support for Republican presidential candidates Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Richard Nixon in 1968. South Carolina and other states of the Deep South had supported the Democrats in every national election from the end of Reconstruction, when white Democrats re-established political control in the South, to 1960. However, discontent with the Democrats' increasing support for civil rights resulted in John F. Kennedy's barely winning the state in 1960. After Kennedy's assassination, President Lyndon Johnson's strong support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and integration angered white segregationists even more. Goldwater won South Carolina by a large margin in 1964.

In 1968, Richard Nixon ran the first GOP "Southern strategy" campaign appealing to disaffected southern white voters. Although segregationist Democrat George Wallace was on the ballot, Nixon ran slightly ahead of him and gained South Carolina's electoral votes. Due to the antagonism of white South Carolina voters toward the national Democratic Party, Hubert Humphrey received less than 30% of the total vote, carrying only majority-black districts.

At the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Thurmond played a key role in keeping Southern delegates committed to Nixon, despite the sudden last-minute entry of California Governor Ronald Reagan into the race. Thurmond also quieted conservative fears over rumors that Nixon planned to ask either Charles Percy or Mark Hatfield—liberal Republicans—to be his running mate, by making it known to Nixon that both men were unacceptable for the vice-presidency to the South. Nixon ultimately asked Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew—an acceptable choice to Thurmond—to join the ticket.

At this time, too, Thurmond took the lead in thwarting Johnson's attempt to elevate Justice Abe Fortas to the post of Chief Justice of the United States. Thurmond's conservatism left him unhappy with the Warren Court. He was glad to simultaneously to disappoint Johnson and to leave the task of replacing Warren to Johnson's presidential successor Richard Nixon.

Thurmond decried the Supreme Court opinion in Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education, which ordered the immediate desegregation of schools in the American South. Thurmond praised President Nixon and his "Southern Strategy" of delaying desegregation, saying Nixon "stood with the South in this case".


Thanks to his close relationship with the Nixon administration, Thurmond found himself in a position to deliver a great deal of federal money, appointments and projects to his state. With a like-minded president in the White House, Thurmond became a very effective power broker in Washington. His staffers said that he aimed to become South Carolina's "indispensable man" in D.C.

On February 4, 1972, Thurmond sent a secret memo to William Timmons (in his capacity as an aide to Richard Nixon) and United States Attorney General John N. Mitchell, with an attached file from the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee urging that British musician John Lennon (living in New York City at the time) be deported from the United States as an undesirable alien, due to Lennon's political views and activism. The document claimed that Lennon's influence on young people could affect Nixon's chances of re-election, and suggested that terminating Lennon's visa might be "a strategy counter-measure". Thurmond's memo and attachment, received by the White House on February 7, 1972, initiated the Nixon administration's persecution of John Lennon that threatened the former Beatle with deportation for nearly five years from 1972 to 1976. The documents were discovered in the FBI files after a Freedom of Information Act search by Professor Jon Wiener, published in Weiner's book Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files (2000), and are discussed in the documentary film The U.S. vs. John Lennon (2006).

In 1976, he appeared in a campaign commercial for incumbent President Gerald Ford in his race against Thurmond's fellow Southerner, former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter. In the commercial, Thurmond declared that Ford (who was born in Nebraska and spent most of life in Michigan) "sound[ed] more like a Southerner than Jimmy Carter".

Post-1970 views regarding race

In 1970, blacks were about 30% of South Carolina's population. After the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed, African Americans were protected in exercising their constitutional rights as citizens to vote, and were generally able to register and vote without harassment. Their large numbers, combined with those of whites who supported civil rights, could no longer be ignored by state politicians.

Thurmond appointed African American Thomas Moss to his staff in 1971, described as the first appointment by a member of the South Carolinian congressional delegation (also incorrectly reported by many sources as the first senatorial appointment of an African American, but Mississippi Senator Pat Harrison had hired clerk-librarian Jesse Nichols in 1937). In 1983, he voted to make the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. a federal holiday. In South Carolina, the honor was diluted, as until 2000 the state offered employees the option to celebrate this holiday or substitute one of three Confederate holidays instead. Despite his actions, Thurmond never explicitly renounced his earlier views on racial segregation.

Later career

Thurmond became President pro tempore of the US Senate in 1981, and held the largely ceremonial post for three terms, alternating with his longtime rival Robert Byrd depending on the party composition of the Senate. During this period, he maintained a close relationship with the Reagan White House.

Thurmond served as the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 and worked closely with Joe Biden, then the chairman. He also joined the minority of Republicans who voted for the Brady Bill in 1993.

On December 5, 1996, Thurmond became the oldest serving member of the U.S. Senate, and on May 25, 1997, the longest-serving member (41 years and 10 months). He cast his 15,000th vote in September 1998.

Towards the end of Thurmond's Senate career, there was controversy over his mental condition. His supporters argued 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. He stepped down as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee at the beginning of 1999, as he had pledged to do in late 1997.

Declining to seek re-election in 2002, he was succeeded by fellow Republican Lindsey Graham.

Thurmond left the Senate in January 2003 as the United States' longest-serving senator (a record later surpassed by Senator Byrd). In his November farewell speech in the Senate, Thurmond told all his colleagues "I love all of you, especially your wives," the latter being a reference to his flirtatious nature with younger women.

At his 100th birthday and retirement celebration in December, Thurmond stated "I don't know how to thank you. You're wonderful people, I appreciate you, appreciate what you've done for me, and may God allow you to live a long time.

Thurmond's 100th birthday celebration, however, became controversial after Mississippi Senator Trent Lott made comments that were viewed as racially insensitive: "When Strom Thurmond ran for president, [Mississippi] 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 the years, either." These comments led to Lott's ouster as Senate Majority Leader.

Personal life

Marriages and children

Thurmond married his first wife, Jean Crouch (July 24, 1926 – January 6, 1960) in South Carolina's Governor's mansion on November 7, 1947. In April 1947, when Crouch was a senior at Winthrop College, Thurmond was a judge in a beauty contest in which she was selected as Miss South Carolina. In June, upon her graduation, Thurmond hired her as his personal secretary. On September 13, 1947, Thurmond proposed marriage by calling Crouch to his office to take a dictated letter. The letter was to her, and contained his proposal of marriage. Crouch died of a brain tumor 13 years later; there were no children.

He married his second wife, Nancy Janice Moore (born 1946), Miss South Carolina of 1965, on December 22, 1968. He was 66 years old and she was only 22. She had been working in his Senate office off and on since 1967. 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, but never divorced. The two remained married and close friends until his death. He even considered resigning during his last term, but only if the Governor would appoint his wife to the seat as his replacement.

At age 68 (with his wife Nancy at age 25) Thurmond fathered what was then believed to be his first child. His four children with Nancy are: beauty pageant contestant Nancy Moore Thurmond (1971–1993), who was killed when a drunk driver hit her in Columbia, South Carolina; former U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina and current South Carolina 2nd Judicial Circuit Solicitor James Strom Thurmond Jr. (born 1972); Washington, D.C., homemaker Juliana Gertrude Thurmond Whitmer (born 1973); and Charleston County, South Carolina, Council Member Paul Reynolds Thurmond (born 1976).


Thurmond died in his sleep on June 26, 2003, at 9:45 p.m. of heart failure at a hospital in Edgefield, South Carolina. He was 100 years old. After lying in state in the rotunda of the State House in Columbia, a caisson carried his body to the First Baptist Church for services where then-Senator Joe Biden delivered a eulogy, and later to the family burial plot in Willowbrook Cemetery in Edgefield where he was interred.

Another daughter

Six months after Thurmond's death, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, an African-American woman of fair complexion, publicly revealed that she was Strom Thurmond's daughter. She was born to Carrie "Tunch" Butler (1909–1948), a maid who had worked for Thurmond's parents, on October 12, 1925, when Butler was sixteen years old and Thurmond twenty-two. He helped pay his daughter's way through college. Though Thurmond never publicly acknowledged Washington-Williams while he was alive, he continued to support her financially. These payments extended well into her adult life. Washington-Williams has stated that she did not reveal she was Thurmond's daughter during his lifetime because it "wasn't to the advantage of either one of us". She kept silent out of love and respect for her father and denies that there was an agreement between the two not to reveal her connection to Thurmond.

After Washington-Williams came forward, the Thurmond family publicly acknowledged her parentage. Many close friends, staff members, and South Carolina residents had long suspected Washington-Williams was his daughter, saying that Thurmond had always taken a great deal of interest in her. The young mixed-race woman had been granted a degree of access to Thurmond more appropriate to a family member than to a member of the public. Washington-Williams is eligible for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution and the United Daughters of the Confederacy through her Thurmond ancestry. Thurmond was a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a similar group for men.

Political timeline

Governor of South Carolina (1947–1951)
States' Rights Democratic presidential candidate (1948)
Eight-term senator from South Carolina (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 one-man Congressional filibuster (1957)
Set record for oldest serving member at 94 years (1997)
Set the then-record for longest cumulative tenure in the Senate at 43 years (1997), increasing to 47 years, 6 months at his retirement in January 2003, surpassed by Robert Byrd in July 2006
Became the only senator ever to serve at the age of 100

Electoral history


The Strom Thurmond Foundation, Inc. provides financial aid support to deserving South Carolina residents who demonstrate financial need. The Foundation was established in 1974 by Thurmond with honoraria received from speeches, donations from friends and family, and from other acts of generosity. It serves as a permanent testimony to his memory, and to his concern for the education of able students who have demonstrated financial need.
Thurmond is mentioned in a 1993 Frasier episode entitled "Here's Looking at You". In the episode Frasier's son Frederick is afraid that Thurmond is hiding in his bedroom closet.
A reservoir on the Georgia–South Carolina border is named after him: Lake Strom Thurmond.
The University of South Carolina is home to the Strom Thurmond Fitness Center, one of the largest fitness complexes on a college campus. The new complex has largely replaced the Blatt Fitness center, named for Solomon Blatt, a political rival of Thurmond.
Thurmond Building at Winthrop University is named for him. He served on Winthrop's Board of Trustees from 1936 to 1938 and again from 1947 to 1951 when he was governor of South Carolina.
A statue of Strom Thurmond is located on the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol as a memorial to his service to the state.
Strom Thurmond High School is located in his hometown of Edgefield, South Carolina.
Al Sharpton was reported on February 24, 2007, to be a descendent of slaves owned by the Thurmond family. Sharpton has not asked for a DNA test.
The U.S. Air Force has a C-17 Globemaster named The Spirit of Strom Thurmond.
In 1989 he was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Ronald Reagan.
In 1993 he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush.
The Strom Thurmond Institute is located on the campus of Clemson University. George H. W. Bush was on hand at the ground breaking ceremony while he was the Vice President.
Appears in the 2008 award-winning documentary on Lee Atwater, Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story.
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Strom Thurmond, Governor, U.S. Senator's Timeline

December 5, 1902
Edgefield, Edgefield County, South Carolina, United States
October 12, 1925
Age 22
Age 68
Age 73
June 26, 2003
Age 100
Edgefield, Edgefield County, South Carolina, United States
July 1, 2003
Age 100
Edgefield, Edgefield, South Carolina, United States