Strom Thurmond’s America

Joseph Crespino, Author
Joseph Crespino. Hill and Wang, $30 (432p) ISBN 978-0-8090-9480-6
Reviewed on: 05/21/2012
Release date: 09/04/2012
Paperback - 404 pages - 978-0-8090-8434-0
Ebook - 416 pages - 978-1-4299-4548-6
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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.)
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