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Strom Thurmond's Americaby Joseph Crespino
Synopses & Reviews
“Do not forget that ‘skill and integrity are the keys to success.” This was the last piece of advice on a list Will Thurmond gave his son Strom in 1923. The younger Thurmond would keep the words in mind throughout his long and colorful career as one of the Souths last race-baiting demagogues and as a national power broker who, along with Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, was a major figure in modern conservative politics.
But as the historian Joseph Crespino demonstrates in Strom Thurmonds America, the late South Carolina senator followed only part of his fathers counsel. Political skill was the key to Thurmonds many successes; a consummate opportunist, he had less use for integrity. He was a thoroughgoing racist—he is best remembered today for his twenty-four-hour filibuster in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957—but he fathered an illegitimate black daughter whose existence he did not publicly acknowledge during his lifetime. A onetime Democrat and labor supporter, he switched parties in 1964 and helped to dismantle New Deal protections for working Americans.
If Thurmond was a great hypocrite, though, he was also an innovator who saw the future of conservative politics before just about anyone else. As early as the 1950s, he began to forge alliances with Christian Right activists, and he eagerly took up the causes of big business, military spending, and anticommunism. Crespinos adroit, lucid portrait reveals that Thurmond was, in fact, both a segregationist and a Sunbelt conservative. The implications of this insight are vast. Thurmond was not a curiosity from a bygone era, but rather one of the first conservative Republicans we would recognize as such today. Strom Thurmonds America is about how he made his brand of politics central to American life.
"In this impressive biography of the late South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond (1902 — 2003), Emory University historian Crespino (In Search of Another Country) steps beyond the usual 'white devil' caricature of an arch-segregationist to provide an evenhanded and sharp account of the man. An 'avatar of the Republican Party's Ã¢Â€Â˜southern strategy,'Â ' Thurmond switched to the Republican Party in 1964 to campaign for Goldwater. As a ranking U.S. senator from 1956 to 2003, Thurmond amassed an immense amount of legislative power. During his long career, Thurmond contested the Supreme Court, communism, organized labor, affirmative action, abortion, and antimilitarism. 'Thurmond is incorrectly held up as an example of merely the Old Right. In fact, he was central to the creation of the New,' Crespino argues. While forgoing easy charges of structural racism in the Republican Party, he minces no words: 'Thurmond was a thoroughgoing racist' and 'one of the last of the Jim Crow demagogues.' Thurmond persistently tried to impede integration and limit voting rights for blacks. When the school busing wars came in the 1970s, Thurmond and other Southerners 'were comforted to know that the outrage they had long felt over desegregation was spreading across the country.' Crespino's portrait reveals a flawed, egotistical, unapologetic, headstrong man whose views helped give birth to the contemporary Right and whose legacy continues to influence the GOP. Illus. Agent: Geri Thoma, Markson Thoma Literary Agency. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
One reviewer likened the subject of Strom Thurmonds America to “a malevolent Forrest Gump.” As Joseph Crespinos inspired biography of the late politician demonstrates, a better description of Thurmond would be hard to find. Thurmonds life spanned nearly the entire twentieth century, while his career saw him play a central role in the turning points of postwar American politics. As the presidential nominee of the short-lived Dixiecrat Party and as a longtime South Carolina senator, Thurmond was a national power broker and, along with Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, a key figure in the rise of modern conservatism.
Though best remembered for his twenty-four-hour filibuster in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and for fathering an illegitimate black daughter whose existence he never publicly acknowledged, Thurmonds influence, as Crespino reveals, went far beyond matters of race. As early as the 1950s, Thurmond was forging alliances with Christian Right activists and eagerly taking up the causes of big business, military spending, and anticommunism. When he switched parties in 1964, he helped lay the foundation for our current political situation—though often viewed as a curiosity from a bygone era, Thurmond was in fact one of the first conservative Republicans we would recognize as such today. Strom Thurmonds America is about how he made his brand of politics central to American life.
The political sins of the late South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond are notorious: he was behind the Dixiecrat Party of the late 1940s, the Southern Manifesto of 1956, the daylong filibuster in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957, and the flight of white Southerners into the clutches of the Republican Party in 1968 that gave Nixon the White House. His personal sins are equally infamous, most especially his refusal to acknowledge his illegitimate African American daughter. Even before his death in 2003, historians had cast him as a curiosity of a bygone era. Joseph Crespinos Strom Thurmonds America is a stunning correction.
Crespino shows not only that Thurmonds political sins and racial hypocrisies were not his alone but also, more insightfully, that the rise of the Republican right is inconceivable without Thurmond, who led a national charge against labor, the left-wing movements of the sixties, and the antiwar movement, viewing each as a bastion of Communism and anti-Americanism. A Democrat until he switched parties in 1964, he spurred the realignment of Southern and national politics, making the South the base of mainstream Republicanism.
In this authoritative biography, Crespino reveals how a man for whom politics was the only thing that mattered helped foster modern conservatism and altered the course of the nation.
About the Author
Joseph Crespino is a professor of history at Emory University. He is the author of In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution and the coeditor of The Myth of Southern Exceptionalism. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
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