James Strom Thurmond began serving as U.S. senator from South Carolina in 1954; when he died at the age of one hundred in 2003, he was the oldest and longest-serving senator in U.S. history. An outspoken opponent of federal CIVIL RIGHTS legislation for most of his career, Thurmond softened his views in the 1970s. He remained a controversial political figure, however, until the end.
Thurmond was born on December 5, 1902, in Edgefield, South Carolina. Thurmond's father, John William Thurmond, was an attorney who served as county prosecutor and later as U.S. district attorney. He was also a powerful political leader in Edgefield County. Strom, as he preferred to be called, graduated from Clemson University in 1923. He was a teacher and athletic coach in several South Carolina school districts before becoming superintendent of education for Edgefield County in 1929.
While serving as superintendent, Thurmond studied law under his father, who had become a state judge. In 1930, Thurmond was admitted to
the South Carolina bar. He became a full-time attorney in 1933 and soon became county attorney. It was then that Thurmond decided to pursue a political career. He was elected as a state senator in 1933, serving until 1938, when he gave up his office to accept an appointment as a state circuit judge. He took a leave of absence in 1942 to serve with the 82nd Airborne Division during WORLD WAR II.
On his return to South Carolina, Thurmond resumed his political career. He was elected governor in 1947, serving until 1951. Thurmond believed, as most southern Democrats did, that state-enforced racial SEGREGATION was legitimate public policy and that the federal government had no authority to end it. At the 1948 national DEMOCRATIC PARTY convention, southern Democrats on the platform committee removed President HARRY S. TRUMAN's proposals for civil rights legislation. When the convention, under the leadership of HUBERT H. HUMPHREY, restored Truman's proposals, many southern Democrats, including Thurmond, walked out of the convention and started a splinter party, the States' Rights Democratic party. It was popularly known as the Dixiecrat party.
"I DON'T KNOW HOW I GOT SUCH A REPUTATION AS A SEGREGATIONIST. ? I GUESS IT WAS BECAUSE WHEN I WAS THE GOVERNOR OF SOUTH CAROLINA IT WAS MY DUTY TO UPHOLD THE LAW AND THE LAW REQUIRED SEGREGATION, SO I WAS JUST DOING MY DUTY."