Monday, December 5, 2011

STROM THURMOND b. December 5, 1902

December 5, 1902-June 26, 2003

(R-South Carolina)

At age one hundred in 2002, Strom Thurmond was the oldest person ever to serve in the U.S. Senate. First appointed (in 1954), and then elected, Senator from South Carolina as a Democrat, he switched to the Republican party on September 16, 1964. As Governor of South Carolina (1947-1951), he had run against the Democratic President Harry S Truman in 1948 as a segregationist States Rights ("Dixiecrat") candidate. In August 1957 he conducted a record 24-hour, 18-minute filibuster against a civil rights bill. (Information about his congressional career can be found here.)

After his death, a new detail of Thurmond's personal history was revealed: at twenty-two, he became a father for the first time. His daughter's mother was a sixteen-year-old maid in the Thurmond family home, and his daughter, ultimately named Essie Mae Washington-Williams, is, as some put it, "bi-racial" (as Barack Obama is "bi-racial"); her mother was African-American.

Ms. Washington-Williams has been officially recognized as the Senator's eldest. As his official biography at the Strom Thurmond Institute (Clemson University) states: "Thurmond's first and oldest child, Essie Mae Washington-Williams (1925- ), was the daughter of Carrie Butler (1909-1947) who worked as a maid in the Thurmond family home in Edgefield, SC. Butler's aunt and uncle, Mr. & Mrs. Washington, adopted Essie Mae and took her to live with them in Pennsylvania when she was six months old." She tells her own story here.

Senator Thurmond did have four more children with his second wife, Nancy Janice Moore (Miss South Carolina of 1965), whom he married when he was sixty-five and she twenty-two: Nancy Moore (1971-1993), James Strom II (1972- ), Juliana 'Julie' Gertrude (1974- ) and Paul Reynolds (1976- ).

Sometimes the personal is political.

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