Crespino, associate professor of history at Emory, says he wrote the book on the late South Carolina senator to provide a portrait of Thurmond’s effect on modern conservative politics nationally.
“Strom Thurmond is a well-known, controversial figure in Southern and national politics, and one I thought we didn’t understand sufficiently,” Crespino says. “We understood him as one of the last Jim Crow demagogues, but we also need to understand him as one of the first of the post-World War II Sunbelt conservatives. He didn’t start off as one and gradually become the other – he was both at the same time.
“Understanding that paradox tells us a lot about Southern demagogues and Sunbelt conservatives, and a lot about Southern history and modern American political history,” he adds.
Thurmond, known as a blatantly racist senator, was adept at switching his positions, his views, and even his parties – he began his political life as a Democrat and became a Republican in 1964 – as it suited his career. He was a U.S. senator for nearly 48 years, and he became one of the first major figures in modern conservative politics, along with Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.
He won his first election to the South Carolina Senate in 1932. He hailed from Edgefield County in South Carolina, known for its extreme enforcement of Jim Crow laws at the time, and as President Harry Truman began to press for civil rights legislation in the post-World War II years, Thurmond and other like-minded politicians began to work against that movement. He is best remembered for his 24-hour filibuster in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
Despite his well-known racism, Thurmond fathered a daughter with an African-American woman. Though he never acknowledged her existence publicly during his lifetime, he paid for her education.
Crespino is also the author of “In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution” and the co-editor of “The Myth of Southern Exceptionalism.”
The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place in the Jones Room on Woodruff Library level 3. The book will be available for sale, and a book signing and light refreshments will follow the presentation.
The Robert W. Woodruff Library is located at 540 Asbury Circle in Atlanta, 30322. Parking is available in the Fishburne deck.
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