To better understand American politics

To many, Strom Thurmond represents the racist conservative politician of the 1940s. He spoke out against desegregation of public schools and kept the birth of his African American daughter a secret until after his death.

Joseph Crespino, professor of history at Emory University, discussed on Wednesday how we can look at the life and politics of Thurmond to better understand American politics today.

Crespino discussed his book Strom Thurmond’s America, a novel illustrating the life and political career of Dixiecrat turned right-winger Strom Thurmond.

The 130,000 word book was born out of a statement from then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott that the country would not have “all these problems” if Thurmond had been elected President in 1948.  Thurmond was a segregationist, who holds the record for the longest filibuster in U.S. history (24 hours) in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

In his research of Thurmond, Crespino had evidence of Lott making an identical statement in 1980. Originally a 650-word op-ed for the New York Times, Crespino’s work developed into the novel.

Crespino argued that to understand Strom Thurmond is to better understand American politics. He described Thurmond as being both at the same time the “last of the Jim Crow demagogues and first of the sunbelt conservatives.”  The book offers a broader perspective on how conservatives are viewed traditionally good guys: “Western principled conservatives,” and bad guys being “dumb racist southerners”.

Crespino said this type of distinction not only makes its way into public discourse but into scholarship as well. While the book attempts to show Thurmond in the light of a national political figure, Crespino said he does not try to hit the reader over the head with his own political views.

Crespino was the first of a series of speakers to give talks about their research and work hosted by the Georgia State History Department.

The next event hosted by the History Department is part of a brown bag series, entitled “Many Norma Raes: Working Class Women in the Struggle to Organize J.P. Stevens in the 1970s.” The talk will take place Nov. 13 at 11:45 a.m. until 12:45 p.m. in room 2131 of the Georgia State History Department.