Strom Thurmond's America
  • Strom Thurmond's America
  • Strom Thurmond's America

Strom Thurmond's America

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by Joseph Crespino
     
 

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"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 South's last race-baiting demagogues and as a national power broker who, along with Barry Goldwater and

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Overview

"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 South's 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 Thurmond's America, the late South Carolina senator followed only part of his father's counsel. Political skill was the key to Thurmond's 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 in the senate, 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. Crespino's 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 Thurmond's America is about how he made his brand of politics central to American life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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 ‘southern strategy,’” 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.)
Library Journal
Strom Thurmond (1902–2003), the controversial and long-lived conservative U.S. senator from South Carolina, is often considered to have been a living anachronism. A staunch racist and the father of an illegitimate mixed-race daughter, Thurmond was the 1948 Dixiecrat candidate for president. He was pro-business, antiunion, anticommunist, and pro-traditional religion. Crespino (history, Emory Univ.; In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution) brings new perspective to the life and impact of this major player in post-World War II politics. His goal is to present an objective portrayal of both the racist white Southerner and the American conservative. The results are well researched, well written, and engaging, offering a far more authoritative portrait than Jack Bass and Marilyn W. Thompson's Strom or Jeffrey K. Smith's Dixiecrat. Crespino effectively argues that Thurmond has been incorrectly labeled as merely a relic of the Old Right and was, in fact, a driving force behind the evolution of the New Right, i.e., pro-business, anti-labor, pressing for religious influence in politics, etc. VERDICT Strongly recommended for anyone interested in 20th-century American political history or biography.—Leslie Lewis, Duquesne Univ. Lib., Pittsburgh
Kirkus Reviews
Think Strom Thurmond, uber-right-winger and segregationist, is a figure from America's political past? By Crespino's (History/Emory Univ.; In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution, 2007, etc.) account, Thurmond is the guiding spirit of the modern GOP. Readers of a certain age might remember South Carolinian Thurmond as the fiery door-blocking defender of the Old South who, hypocritically, fathered a daughter out of wedlock with an African-American constituent. He was famous in his time for delivering a 24-hour-long speech in filibuster against a civil rights act in 1957; less well known was the fact that as soon as he finished talking, the Senate voted the act into law. It is a mistake to dismiss Thurmond as a relic, though, for Crespino reminds readers that when Barry Goldwater was just beginning his political career, Thurmond was busily "denouncing federal meddling in private business, the growing socialist impulse in American politics, and the dangers of statism," all things of compulsive concern to rightists today. Thurmond was also a pioneer in obsessing over Fidel Castro, "the only senator to issue an unequivocal call for invasion" following the revelation that the Soviets were housing missiles in Cuba. Crespino traces Thurmond's enduring influence to the intervention of Ronald Reagan, who led the conservative charge in the GOP's first effort to denature its "dreaded moderate or liberal" wing, and of Richard Nixon, who, rather than view Thurmond as a "reactionary southern racist and Bircher extremist," played to the senator's fervent desire to be perceived as a statesman. Given the influence of Thurmond's protégés and successors--not least Lee Atwater and his protégé, Karl Rove--on the GOP today, it's small wonder that Thurmond's legacy should be thriving. A solid contribution to contemporary political analysis and a highly useful and timely companion in an election cycle marked by the resurgence of the controversies of Thurmond's day.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780809084340
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
09/24/2013
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
568,699
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

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