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BOOK REVIEWS: ‘Strom’ Issued in Quality Paperback Edition by PublicAffairs

Posted by kinchendavid on July 17, 2006

July 1, 2006
BOOK REVIEWS: ‘Strom’ Issued in Quality Paperback Edition by PublicAffairs
Reviewed By David M. Kinchen on July 1, 2006

Hinton, WV – Almost exactly a year ago, I reviewed the hardbound edition of “Strom: The Complicated Personal and Political Life of Strom Thurmond” from PublicAffairs, a New York publisher distinguished for quality nonfiction, especially relating to politics, economics and world affairs. The biography of South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond – until a few weeks ago, the longest serving U.S. Senator – has now been issued in a paperback edition ($16, 415 pages, 8 pages of illustrations). I’m reprinting my review, in the wake of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-WV, just taking over the longest-serving record from Thurmond.
Here’s my June 2005 of “Strom: The Complicated Personal and Political Life of Strom Thurmond” by Jack Bass and Marilyn W. Thompson (PublicAffairs, 415 Pages, $27.50).
“First elected to office in 1929, Thurmond (1902-2003) will probably be remembered for fathering a child with his family’s black maid. The child, a retired Los Angeles teacher named Essie Mae Washington-Williams, was 78 when she revealed to the world after Thurmond’s death that she was his child. Her name was carved onto Thurmond’s tombstone on July 1, 2004, exactly a year after Strom’s funeral in his birthplace of Edgefield, S.C.
“Bass and Thompson are veteran South Carolina reporters who authored a previous biography of Thurmond in 2003, “Ol’ Strom: An Unauthorized Biography of Strom Thurmond” (University of South Carolina Press). This latest book, a masterful delineation of South Carolina political folkways, was necessary in the wake of Ms. Washington-Williams’ confirmation of what many people in the Palmetto State had already suspected. Before reading “Strom” I knew that South Carolina was a rambunctious place, but the book shows it as lively and complex as Louisiana, home of the Long (Huey, Russell, Earl, etc) clan and as distinctive a place as any in the United States.
“The authors explain the territoriality of South Carolina politics. For a small town – 2,500 people – Edgefield and its same-named county on the Savannah River have produced a large number of famous and infamous Palmetto State politicos, including the notorious racist Pitchfork Ben Tillman. It must be something in the water. Edgefield County was not a friendly place to its black residents, the authors note: In December 1881, in the wake of the post-Reconstruction repression of African-Americans, about 5,000 of the county’s blacks – roughly a fifth of the black population – left the county en mass for a better life in Arkansas.
“Strom Thurmond will probably be best remembered for his sexual exploits and his virility, but he was a war hero in World War II, flying a glider in the Normandy Invasion in June 1944, heading the breakaway Dixiecrat third party state’s rights movement in the 1948 presidential election against Truman and Dewey and marrying beauty queens a fraction of his age. Strom’s virility is summed up in the one-liner by a U.S. Senatorial colleague: “When he dies, they’ll have to beat his pecker down with a baseball bat in order to close the coffin lid.”
“Just 41 years ago June 19, [42 years ago, now, ed.] Thurmond joined West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd and other mostly Democratic senators in voting against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. That same summer saw three voting rights activists, two whites, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, and one black, James Chaney, murdered in Philadelphia, Miss. The trial of reputed Klansman Edgar Ray Killen for their murders is has concluded and the jury is deciding the fate of the octogenarian as of this publication. Flash: Edgar Ray Killen was found guilty of manslaughter June 21, 2005.
“Unlike his colleague from West Virginia, Thurmond never was in the Ku Klux Klan; his position in Edgefield County was high in the social pecking order and the wearers of white sheets were generally from lower social classes. There is no doubt that Thurmond was a segregationist, but he didn’t indulge in racist letter writing. The authors suggest that his relationship with his black daughter may have modified his racism to the point where supported and voted to confirm black judges and justices, particularly Clarence Thomas for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991.
“Packed with anecdotes, “Strom” is a major contribution to American political history. It’s worth reading by general readers and political wonks alike.”
Publisher’s web site: http://www.publicaffairsbooks.com

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