Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 948

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 948

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This is the grave of Strom Thurmond.

This malignancy on the world was born James Strom Thurmond, Jr. in Edgefield, South Carolina in 1902, not far from the old plantation of John C. Calhoun. Quite a town. His father was a minor local political figure who once lost a race for Congress. In 1908, Thurmond met Pitchfork Ben Tillman. Ol’ Pitchfork Ben became Strom’s hero. In more ways than one. Strom attended what is today Clemson University. As a young man, he raped the family’s Black housekeeper and got her pregnant. This child was not acknowledged by the family until 2003.

Strom got interested in politics as a young man. He was a teacher for awhile and became Edgefield County’s superintendent of education. He passed the bar in 1930 and became Edgefield Town and County Attorney. He was a big FDR supporter because at this time there was just no question but for a South Carolina Democrat to support the Democrat. And no one really knew what Roosevelt’s politics were anyway. He resigned to join the Army in World War II and eventually ended up as a lieutenant colonel. He actually was pretty highly decorated, winning the Bronze Star for capturing a bunch of German soldiers at gunpoint. Of course, he basically agreed with them on race.

By the end of World War II, Thurmond was a rising star in the South Carolina Democratic Party and now something of a war hero. So he ran for governor in 1946. Amazingly, he was seen as the progressive in the Democratic primary because he had an anti-lynching reputation, having arrested lynchers. This is insane to me, but welcome to South Carolina. The NAACP even game him accolades! He then won, accusing his opponent of not loving FDR enough. Then he didn’t even speak out when a judge ordered the end of the White Primary in South Carolina.

Well that sure didn’t last long. By 1948, Strom went all in for white supremacy, creating a third party candidacy to challenge Truman from the right as the States Rights Democratic Party. Whether he had recommitted to a full-fledged white supremacy or he was an opportunist remains somewhat unclear. He would later claim his openly racist campaign fearmongering about racial mixing was just a defense of states rights and liberty but this is bullshit. Among his 1948 statements was 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.” So….not sure those claims of not being racist hold much water.

It was a clown show candidacy–even other southern leaders thought Thurmond was basically an idiot, very much including South Carolina’s leading politician, James Byrnes. But that wouldn’t stop Strom. No one may have taken Thurmond seriously but he was the leader of the movement to take the white South out of the Democratic Party and demonstrated that lots of white voters were ready to vote for someone else if that person was racist enough. He won 38 electoral votes with that shameful candidacy, winning Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina, plus one elector from Tennessee. He then ran for the Senate in 1950 but lost to another racebaiter. He endorsed Eisenhower over Stevenson in 1952 and then ran for Senate again in 1954. This time he won as a write-in candidate after the current senator, Burnet Maybank, dropped dead shortly before the election.

As a senator, Thurmond was horrible. He was basically a single-issue person and that issue was segregation. He led the longest filibuster in American history at over 24 hours, over the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He was a showboat here–even other southern senators such as Lyndon Johnson were pissed at him because they had agreed not to filibuster what was already a compromise bill that was extremely weak and limited. Again, no one ever took Strom Thurmond seriously as a thinker or a politician. He was a demagogue and that’s all. Year after year, election after election, Thurmond would froth over Democrats supporting civil rights and get a lot of attention for himself. Of course he loved the civil rights movement, in a sense, because it was good for his attention whoring. He denounced Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the March on Washington, from the Senate floor, calling him “a communist, a draft dodger and a homosexual.”

When Thurmond did talk about issues other than civil rights, it was claiming the State Department was turning over America’s nuclear weapons to the United Nations and calling for an invasion of Cuba. He also claimed the military wasn’t anticommunist enough and was driven by what today right-wingers might call woke politics that weakened our national defense. He also spoke for decades about the terror that would result if the U.S. reverted the Panama Canal to Panama.

Ol’Strom finally became a Republican in 1964 when his buddy Barry Goldwater became the Republican nomination for president. Republicans barely wanted him at that point because he was such a clown. But of course as the Republican Party became the White Man’s Party, they embraced him more and more. That Thurmond spoke loudly about every court case and law that promoted civil rights was a given. He was the unfiltered vomit from the racist mouth. But he was powerful enough as a voice of the White South that Nixon felt the need to get approval from Strom for his VP, which is why it was Spiro Agnew instead of Mark Hatfield. Strom delivered his state and other states in the South to Nixon. That was at least in party because Strom told other southern politicians that Nixon ultimately supported white supremacy and wouldn’t do much to promote civil rights. The new president paid him back by funneling the pork projects to the Palmetto State.

Strom would vote against anything decent and good. He thought the introduction of OSHA was an abomination against liberty. He sponsored a bill to ban unions in the military, as if the military was about to unionize. He did have one area he was not truly horrible on–he and Ted Kennedy worked together for free prescription drugs for seniors. So, OK, I guess. Of course, he came out in public support of William Calley after My Lai, not that this made him much different than Colin Powell.

Strom and his new buddy Jesse Helms continued his attacks on returning the Panama Canal in the late 70s, which turned out to be an enormous cudgel Republicans could use against Democrats. It was effective because Americans are morons when it comes to rest of the world. The idea of a Panama-controlled Canal as a danger to American power was stupid on the face of it because if it came down to it, the U.S. would simply take it over again. But Thurmond and Helms were stupid men and they represented perhaps a majority of Americans in this. When George Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, part of the strategy to get the sexual predator confirmed was to have him meet with Thurmond to discuss how he didn’t need affirmative action and thus was a product of good old American boostrapism.

Well, the old bastard didn’t get any better as he aged into doddery. Not that this was going to keep him from running for reelection. Since the whites who kept voting in him didn’t actually care about governance, what difference did it make that he was slobbering on himself and pooping his adult diapers on the Senate floor. That would own the libs! In 2002, Strom turned 100, still tottering around the Senate. At his birthday party, Trent Lott stated, “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.” Remember that when Thurmond became a Republican, the party was hesitant to embrace such an open racist. By 2002, the party leaders had fully embraced his mentality. Twenty years later, the Republican Party would think Strom was a RINO, not quite fascist or racist enough for them. As the historian Joseph Crespino, who wrote a Strom biography, noted, “There’s a good chance that Strom Thurmond would be run out of the Republican Party today. He’s far too moderate.”

Also, Strom tried to grab Patty Murray’s breast in the Senate elevator when he was 91 years old. He had no idea she was his colleague. In fact, he was a serial creep, someone for whom any woman was fair game, from the Black maid he raped as a kid to feeling up Cokie Roberts when he was old and hundreds of women in between. Ten years after he had no idea who Patty Murray was when he grabbed her, he was still in the Senate.

Strom finally decided not to run for reelection in 2002. On June 26, 2003, the nation finally expelled its 100 year old turd, as Strom Thurmond got flushed down the toilet of death. When he died, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist stated that Strom had “a life really unmatched in public service.” Oh, I don’t know. It wasn’t so different than Eastland or Bilbo or other hellbound racists.

In discussing Thurmond, I have found that nearly 1700 words barely scratches the surface of what a complete scumbag this guy was. No doubt comments will have lots of fun stories.

Strom Thurmond is buried in Edgefield Village Cemetery, Edgefield, South Carolina.

If you would like this series to visit some of the other worst, most disgusting racists in American history, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Madison Grant is in Sleepy Hollow, New York and Andrew Johnson is in Greeneville, Tennessee. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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