August 28, 2007

Strom Thurmond cartoon by Siers 2003 (click image for larger) From American Heritage:

Fifty years ago today, on August 29, 1957, Sen. Strom Thurmond, the South’s champion of states’ rights and white supremacy, secured a place in the annals of congressional history when he finally yielded the floor after speaking for 24 hours and 18 minutes straight. His speech set the record for a Senate filibuster.

Thurmond’s filibuster made for good political theater, but it never stood a chance of derailing the bill. ...But outside the nation’s capital, many Southerners loved Thurmond’s performance. Georgia’s governor, Marvin Griffin, defiantly promised, “We’re not going to let a Federal judge tell us who can vote,” while South Carolina’s governor, George Bell Timmerman, Jr., proudly announced, “I don’t have any intention of cooperating.” Thurmond’s grandstand may have been legislatively ineffectual, but it almost certainly encouraged white Southerners in resisting federal law, as they had begun doing three years earlier after the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

In its immediate goal, Thurmond’s stand proved unnecessary. Stripped of its teeth, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 proved an ineffective safeguard of black voting rights. It would take a much stronger measure, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, to get the job done. It’s hard to say who won in the long run. In 1964 Thurmond, a Democrat, switched political affiliation again, this time for good, leading a massive exodus of white Southerners to the Republican party.

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