Sunday, March 03, 2013

Strom Thurmond's America - Book review

This is a well written, interesting biography on a South Carolinian Senator who had a long distinguished career. A self-described "Health Nut" Thurmond lived to be over 100, and served 48 years in the US senate (1954-2003) and 4 years as SC Governor (1948-1953). Crespino writes from a fair but liberal perspective and gets it right mostly. The books has three major flaws (1) he spends far too much time on Thurmond's post 1972 career (1/4 of the book) which is well known to anyone over the age of 40. (2) the author didn't know Thurmond personally and there's no evidence he interviewed members of Thurmond's family or staff (3) too much of the book is based is based on newspaper clippings and secondary sources. For example, I wanted the author source for "J.Edgar Hoover was aiding Southerners in their fight against Civil rights" and "waging a covert war against MLK" and all I get is a reference to a book called "America in the King Years" and a clipping from the April 1964 New York Times.

I was also disappointed in the vague, superficial coverage of Thurmond's fight against the civil rights bills of 1957 and 1964. What was Thurmond's role in both these struggles? Why did he put so much effort into what he knew was a losing cause? What did he think of the bills in later years - did he regret opposing them? Crespino never provides many details. Further, he states that Thurmond's attacks and predictions regarding the 1964 proved incorrect, but the imposition of affirmative action and school busing seems to indicate just the opposite.

Finally, Crespino never adequately addresses the role of Southern White Democrats in the 1960s and 1970s. Of the 21 Southern Democrat Senators who voted against the 1964 Civil Rights bill only Thurmond became a Republican. Why? What made Thurmond different from George Wallace (who died a Democrat), former KKK member Byrd who became Democrat Senate Majority Leader, or even his fellow SC Senator Fritz Hollings (responsible for Flying the Confederate Flay over that SC State Capital)? Why was Thurmond able to win election as a Republican senator when SC voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976, and gave Nixon only 38% of the vote in 1968? He never provides the context; preferring to focus narrowly on Republican party. The movement of old-line Democrats like Thurmond to the Republican party during the 1960-1980 time period is never given a broader focus.

No comments: