(b. Edgefield, South Carolina, 5 Dec. 1902; d. Edgefield, South Carolina, 26 Jun. 2003)
US; Governor of South Carolina 1947–51, US Senator 1954–56, 1956–2003 Thurmond's early career was as a teacher and school superintendent, though he later studied law and became a practising attorney in South Carolina. He served in the state Senate 1933–8 and became a circuit judge in 1938, holding that position until 1942. After war service in the army, he was elected Governor of South Carolina in 1947 and served a four-year term until 1951.
Initially, and by the standards of his time he was relatively progressive; but the mounting battle for civil rights took him into ever more extreme positions in favour of segregation. In 1948 he led the Dixiecrat walkout from the Democratic ticket headed by Harry Truman and himself stood as a presidential candidate on a states' rights ticket, winning four southern states. He was originally appointed, as a Democrat, to the Senate in 1954 (following the resignation of Charles E. Daniel); but in 1956 he resigned and successfully ran for re-election, again as a Democrat.
Ever-widening divisions over civil rights in the Democratic Party pushed Thurmond closer to the Republican Party. In 1964 he switched parties and became a leading force in the emergent Republican Party in the south. Although Thurmond had long opposed racial integration, once it came he recognized the significance of the black vote for South Carolina politics and began to appoint blacks to his staff.
Republican captures of the Senate in 1981 and 1994 gave Thurmond enhanced influence. In 1981 he became chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a post which gave him scope to promote his support for harsh penal measures and his opposition to liberal jurisprudence. In 1995 he became chair of the Armed Services Committee, a post he relished because of his own opposition to cuts in defence spending and his state's interests in maintaining military bases. Despite his age, his ultra-conservative views seemed to give him an entrenched position in South Carolina politics. In 1996 he became the oldest person to serve in Congress and, although being advised to retire, he stood for re-election, and was successful, although with a reduced majority. His long years of service in the Senate gave him significance, but he became increasingly infirm in his final term, collapsing on the floor of the Senate in 2001. He did, however, serve until the end of his term, dying shortly afterwards.
Controversial remarks—regretting that the Dixiecrat Thurmond had been unsuccessful in the presidential elections in 1948—made by Trent Lott at Thurmond's 100th birthday celebrations caused controversy and led to Lott's resignation.