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Once segregationist democrat then gop senator dies

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Ex-S.C. Sen. Strom Thurmond Dies at 100
Ex-S.C. Sen. Strom Thurmond, Longest-Serving U.S. Senator in History, Dies at 100

The Associated Press

Former U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond died last night at the age of 100. He was in the Senate for 48 of his 100 years.

He is best remembered for a third-party presidential run in 1948. Southern Democrats nominated their own candidate, upset over President Harry Truman's support of civil rights. Thurmond carried four southern states, good for 39 electoral votes. Truman won the election anyway.

In a century of life driven by fiery political passion and sustained through legendary endurance, Strom Thurmond, the longest-serving U.S. senator in history, left a trail of superlatives on American political history.

Thurmond, who died Thursday night at a hospital in his hometown at the age of 100, held the Senate record for filibustering. He was the only person to capture a seat in Congress by write-in. His political career spanned seven decades.

And the one-time Democratic segregationist's defection to the GOP helped fuel the rise of the modern conservative Republican Party in the South.

"He had enthusiasm and passion like no one I've ever met in my life," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who replaced Thurmond following his retirement on Jan. 5, 2003, after more than 48 years in office. "South Carolina's favorite son is gone but he'll never be forgotten."

Thurmond died at 9:45 p.m. after having been in poor health in recent weeks, his son Strom Thurmond Jr. said. He had been living in a newly renovated wing of a hospital in his hometown of Edgefield, S.C., since he returned to the state from Washington earlier this year.

"Surrounded by family, my father was resting comfortably, without pain, and in total peace," Thurmond Jr. said in a statement released by the hospital.

From the halls of Congress to his home state where his name adorns high schools, federal buildings, streets and a lake Thurmond was remembered as a tireless worker for his constituents and a political force even by those at odds with the sometimes controversial Southern icon.

In Washington, the Senate temporarily suspended debate Thursday on Medicare legislation to pay tribute to Thurmond.

"Strom Thurmond will forever be a symbol of what one person can accomplish when they live life, as we all know he did, to the fullest," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., served with Thurmond for more than 35 years. "Even though we ended up on other sides of the aisle, there was never any doubt about the interest of South Carolina," Hollings said Thursday night.

Thurmond won his first election in 1928, to local office, and his last in 1996, to his eighth Senate term. "We cannot and I shall not give up on our mission to right the 40-year wrongs of liberalism," he said during his last campaign. "The people of South Carolina know that Strom Thurmond doesn't like unfinished business."

His voting record was pro-defense, anti-communist and staunchly conservative; his tireless devotion to constituent services was widely revered.

Thurmond's physical vigor was also legendary. He was a lifelong exercise buff, who shunned tobacco and alcohol and was known for his vigorous handshake. He had a storied, lifelong reputation as a ladies' man.

But age took its inevitable toll as he neared retirement, and he was guided through the Capitol in a wheelchair. Yet he wielded political power virtually to the end, prevailing upon President Bush to appoint his then-28-year-old son, Strom Jr., as U.S. attorney in South Carolina in 2001.

Thurmond ran for president as a Dixiecrat in 1948 and won 39 Southern electoral votes as part of a states-rights uprising. Nearly a decade later, he set the Senate record for filibustering when he spoke for a straight 24 hours and 18 minutes against a bill to end discrimination in housing.

"The sweet, wonderful Strom Thurmond we know today was an abrasive, aggressive wielder of power" during the Civil Rights era, University of South Carolina historian Dan Carter said late last year when Thurmond was celebrating his 100th birthday. "That ought to be part of what we remember about this extraordinary individual."

Thurmond's presidential campaign sparked controversy last year, when then-Majority Leader Trent Lott declared at Thurmond's 100th birthday party that voters of Mississippi were proud to have supported the South Carolinian when he ran for the White House. Lott was forced to step down as the Senate's Republican leader in the ensuing uproar.

Thurmond's racial politics changed over the years; he became the first Southern senator to hire a black aide, supported the appointment of a black Southern federal judge and voted to make Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national holiday.

"Senator Thurmond was symbolic of the Old South, but his willingness to change over time set an example for many South Carolinians," said Democratic U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, the only black member of the state's congressional delegation.

Thurmond grew up a Democrat his father once ran for office but switched to the GOP in 1964 to support Barry Goldwater's conservative campaign for the White House.

Like other Southern states, South Carolina had been a one-party Democratic state since the end of Reconstruction nearly a century earlier. Thurmond's switch anticipated a broader trend; by the 1990s, the South favored the GOP, and Republican candidates generally triumphed in statewide races in South Carolina.

The first time he ran as a Republican, in 1966, he won easily.

In 1968, Thurmond played a pivotal role in executing the "Southern Strategy" that helped Richard Nixon win the White House. The South Carolinian helped hold Southern delegates in line at the GOP convention when a charismatic conservative, Ronald Reagan, made a late play for the nomination. In the general election, he sought to blunt George Wallace's third-party candidacy in the South, arguing that anything but a vote for Nixon would help elect a liberal Democrat, Hubert Humphrey.

Born Dec. 5, 1902 in Edgefield, James Strom Thurmond Strom was his mother's maiden name was elected county school superintendent, state senator and circuit judge before enlisting in the Army in World War II. He landed in Normandy as part of the 82nd Airborne Division assault on D-Day, and won five battle stars and numerous other awards.

The war over, he returned home to resume his political career and won election as governor in 1946. His record was progressive by contemporary standards for a Southern Democrat. He pushed for repeal of the poll tax and boosted education spending.

He lost a race in South Carolina for the only time in his career four years later, when he challenged incumbent Sen. Olin Johnston for renomination. In defeat, he returned home to practice law.

But in 1954, Sen. Burnet Maybank died unexpectedly. When party officials tapped a state lawmaker to run for the post, Thurmond challenged as a write-in candidate, saying the voters, not the party's leaders, should decide who got the nomination. To underscore his credentials as an insurgent, he pledged to resign his seat before seeking re-election in 1956.

He won, the only person in history to capture a seat in Congress by write-in. Two years later, he kept his pledge to resign before running for the four years remaining in the term.

His presidential race and write-in victory behind him, Thurmond arrived in Washington with a national reputation. The civil rights movement was gathering steam, but he held fast to his segregationist views for years.

He was a leader in drafting the Southern Manifesto of 1956, in which Southern lawmakers vowed resistance to the Supreme Court's unanimous school desegregation order. In 1957, he staged his record nonstop filibuster against housing legislation that he denounced as "race mixing."

Ironically, in earlier decades, Thurmond's segregationist views were more nuanced than those held by other Southern politicians.

As governor, he called for forceful prosecution after a black man, a murder suspect, was lynched by a mob. The result was a trial at which 31 white men were defendants.

His 1950 defeat came at the hands of an opponent who made an issue of Thurmond's gubernatorial appointment of a black physician to a state medical advisory board.

Like many one-time segregationists, Thurmond insisted the issue wasn't race but "federal power vs. state power" though the state power he wanted to preserve was the power to segregate.

"The question of integration was only one facet of that matter," he said in a November 1992 interview.

Showing how much his world had changed, in 1977, Thurmond's young daughter, Nancy, 6, enrolled in a public school in Columbia that was 50 percent black. The girl's teacher also was black.

Thurmond's first wife, Jean Crouch, was 23 years his junior. The couple married in 1947, and she died of a brain tumor in 1960.

His second wife, former beauty queen Nancy Moore, was 44 years younger than Thurmond when they were married in 1968. Thurmond was 68 when their first child, Nancy, was born. The couple had three other children before separating in 1991: Strom Jr., Juliana and Paul. His daughter Nancy died in 1993 after being struck by a car.

Thurmond's funeral will be 1 p.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Columbia, and he will be buried at the Willowbrook Cemetery in Edgefield, according to Shellhouse Funeral Home in Aiken. Thurmond is expected to lie in state, but those plans have not been announced.

photo credit and caption: Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., raises a clenched fist in response to applause from the crowd as he prepares to address the South Carolina Republican Party state convention in a file photo from Saturday, May 4, 1996, in Columbia, S.C. Thurmond, a one-time Democratic segregationist who helped fuel the rise of the modern conservative Republican Party in the South, died Thursday, June 26, 2003. He was 100 and the longest-serving senator in history. (AP Photo/Lou Krasky, File)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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