Strom Thurmond first came to national attention as the Governor of South Carolina, winning the one-party race in a state where African-American voters were disenfranchised. His tenure was marked by his opposition to the lynching of Willie Earle. 

    At the 1948 Democratic convention, a 10-point civil rights programme was adopted including a Fair Employment Practice Commission and voting rights. Antagonised by this platform, Strom Thurmond and 34 other southern Democrats walked out in disgust. He later remarked: “on the question of social intermingling of the races, our people draw the line.” 

    Instead, the States’ Rights Party – better known as Dixiecrats – nominated Thurmond for president. Gaining ballot access in 13 states, they carried four Southern states, winning 39 Electoral College Votes. In Alabama, they won nearly 80% of the vote whilst President Truman was not even on the ballot. Incidentally, despite not running, Thurmond also won a vote in 1960 from a faithless elector from Oklahoma. 

    Despite the threat posed by Thurmond’s Dixiecrats on the right-wing and former Vice-President Henry A. Wallace’s Progressive Party on the left, Truman still prevailed. He was, however, unable to pass any of his pledged civil rights legislation. 

    (Photo: USA Today)

    In protest at the Democrats’ decision to not hold a Senate primary in 1954, Strom Thurmond conducted a write-in candidacy. His campaign was a success, winning with 63% of the vote, beating an opponent with ballot access in a first of its kind result. 

    During his first term, Thurmond wrote the draft of the Southern Manifesto, which opposed a Supreme Court ruling against school desegregation. 

    The next year, the Senator would have perhaps his most infamous moment when he committed the longest solo filibuster in history to prevent the passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act. In the event, he spoke for over 24 hours, describing the federal provisions as unconstitutional and a “cruel and unusual punishment.” To prepare, he had taken long steam baths, armed himself with cough drops, and brought a bucket in case he needed to relieve himself. Despite the longevity of the ardent segregationist’s speech, the bill passed, the first civil rights legislation in 82 years.  

    Before the 1964 election, Thurmond switched political alignment to Republican. He campaigned for Barry Goldwater in the election, with both opposed to the Civil Rights Act. Thurmond called it “the worst civil rights package ever presented to Congress” and engaged in a 60-day filibuster. Strom had previously refused to back Democrat candidates Adlai Stevenson III and John F. Kennedy. 

    (Photo: The McClatchy Washington Bureau)

    Like how in 1948, his run had brought an end to the New Deal in the south, his 1964 switch helped end Democratic dominance across the South. For example, Mississippi, where Thurmond’s 1948 running mate Fielding L. Wright resided, had voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt by 97% in 1932 but backed Goldwater 87% in 1964. 

    In 1967, Thurmond was the only Republican to vote against the nomination of Thurgood Marshall, a former NAACP leader and the first black candidate for the Supreme Court. The next year, he threatened a filibuster against President Johnson’s elevation of Abe Fortas to the Chief Justice, establishing what is known as the ‘Thurmond rule’. 

    After supporting radical Republican Goldwater in 1964, by 1968, he threw his full weight behind former Vice-President Richard Nixon. Thurmond attempted to convince pro-Reagan delegates to convert to the Nixon camp and stop third-party candidate George Wallace, a fellow anti-segregationist, from splitting the right-wing vote, which could gift the election to Hubert Humphrey. 

    Thurmond remained a Nixon loyalist and it is speculated he may have been one of the few Senators willing to back him had his impeachment over Watergate got to the Senate floor.  

    In later life, Thurmond somewhat reversed his civil rights stance. Amongst other things, he became one of the first Senators to hire a black aide, he would vote to reauthorise the Voting Rights Act in the 1980s, and vote to commemorate Martin Luther King Day (having previously called March on Washington organiser Bayard Rustin a Communist …and a homosexual.”) 

    Despite this, he would never apologise for previous actions and even in his New York Times obituary was described as a “foe of integration.”  

    (Photo: Politico)

    Yet Thurmond had a storied Senate career outside of the race issue too. 

    On the foreign policy front, anti-communist Thurmond heavily opposed the dictatorial regimes in the USSR, China, and Cuba. 

    One of the more bizarre campaigns he embarked on was to try to exile John Lennon. His anti-Vietnam War views led to Strom’s 1972 letter asking Attorney General John Mitchell to deport the ex-Beatle. He also supported constitutional amendments to force a balanced budget and ban burning of the American flag although neither came to pass. 

    In 1997, he became the longest-serving Senator in US history. In September the next year, he cast his 15,000th vote, which remains the third most cast by any member of the chamber. 

    In 1999, his 95th and final piece of legislation in which he was the primary sponsor was passed, the Strom Thurmond National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1999. 

    He remained a Senator into the 21st century although he did face difficulties, needing to be told how to vote in his final years and collapsing in 2001. 

    (Photo: CBS)

    In 2002, he became the only serving centenarian Congressman in history. At the time, he was serving as President pro tempore emeritus, an office established for him, having thrice been President pro tempore. His last major vote was to establish the Department of Homeland Security. 

    Even in later life, he did not fail to court controversy with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott resigning his position after stating: “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, [Mississippi] voted for him…if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years.” 

    Aged 100, he stepped down from his Senate seat, having spent 48 years in the legislature. He died later that year. 

    Vice-President Dick Cheney called Strom a “proud and brave America[n] patriot.” His eulogy was conducted by Joe Biden. [1,000 words]