Thurmond first became known to the nation when he ran for
President in 1948 under the Dixiecrat party. At that time, he was a
staunch supporter of states' rights, particularly in the aspect of
segregation. Thurmond, like many of the people of his state,
believed that segregation was a question not to be decided on the
national level, but in the several state congresses. Thurmond
carried only a few Southern states in the electoral college, but he
had made a name for himself.
In 1954, Mr. Thurmond went to Washington as the first (and to this
date, only) national Senator ever elected as a write-in candidate.
Over the next several years, his views of segregationism changed,
as did his attitude towards the people of his state.
Few people know that Strom Thurmond was the first Southern Senator
to appoint a black male to a position in his office, and the first to
appoint a black federal judge. As the times changed, so did his
voting record. Though he originally voted against the Voting Rights
Act, he did support its renewal in the eighties. He was also one of
few Southerners in support of the bill to create a national Martin
Luther King, Jr. holiday.
The reversal of his views was not completely spawned by a reversal
of the views of South Carolinians. Rather, it was the other way
around. Because Strom voiced his opinions and admitted his mistakes,
many people began to come around to his way of thinking. It is
because of Thurmond that racism receded in the South. Though most
Southerners remain quite conservative, they have come far from the
views that they collectively held in years past.
It is quite unfortunate that Senator Trent Lott's statements
regarding Strom Thurmond accelerated the negative aspects of the
man's life. Instead, it should be realized that for a man to realize
his errors, change his views, and then work to the converse, is a
greater and more notable feat. Popular opinion of Thurmond resulted
in few people realizing what a dedicated public servant he really
If there is one thing that Thurmond knew how to do, it was to
listen to the voices of South Carolina. Regardless what the problem
was, he was eager to step in on behalf of a constituent and offer
them aide. I was fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of such
In my senior year of high school, I applied to only one school,
Clemson University. I could think of going nowhere else. I was
accepted and made my preparations for financial aid and scholarships,
eager to enter the Unversity in the autumn.
Unfortunately, a nefarious student worker in the admissions
office, whom I barely knew but did not care for me, destroyed all
records the University had for me. My transcripts, admissions
application and acceptance offer, even my financial aid information,
were gone. This became known to me when I had not received word of
my financial aid months after I had submitted my application. The VP
of Admissions and Financial Aid at the University told me that the
information was lost, that it was past the deadline, and that there
was nothing that he would do about it.
Frustrated and distraught, I called Senator Thurmond's office in
Columbia, South Carolina on Monday morning. The aide that I spoke
with asked me to send a letter to the Senator's address in
Washington, D.C. That I did the same afternoon. Only three days
later, the University administrator who had destroyed my hopes called
me back and apologized profusely. Senator Thurmond had left
Washington upon receipt of my letter and flew to Clemson to meet with
the administration and rectify the situation. Moreover, Thurmond
had enlisted the support of other senators and representatives in
South Carolina to assist me.
Had it not been for Thurmond's willingness to help, I would not
have been able to attend college that fall, and probably would not
have attended at all. He did me no more of a favor than he would
have done for any of his constituents, though. Only in passing had I
met the man, and held no personal connection to him. I was merely
one more voter calling for help. It is widely known in South
Carolina that Strom would help anyone out, whenever you needed him.
All you had to do was ask.
That is Strom Thurmond as I and most South Carolinians knew him.
He was a man of the people, he was dedicated to his state, and he was
a true public servant. He helped us when we were down, he fought for
us, and he showed us when we were wrong. And we trusted him, because
he could tell us that he was wrong, too. Most people only know Strom
Thurmond as half the man that he was. I like to think of him as
being twice the man.