University of South Carolina

Explore 'Strom Thurmond's America' Sept. 18

By Peggy Binette,, 803-777-7704

Historian Joseph Crespino wants to complicate South Carolinians’ understanding of U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond and his impact on contemporary Southern politics.

Crespino, a history professor at Emory University, will deliver the University of South Carolina’s inaugural Phil Grose Lecture at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18, in the Hollings Library. The talk is free and open to the public.

Titled the same as Crespino’s political biography, “Strom Thurmond’s America,” the lecture will explore Thurmond’s place in the history of modern conservative politics.

“Thurmond was not merely one of the last of the Jim Crow demagogues –though he certainly was that – but he also was one of the first Sunbelt conservatives,” Crespino said. “We tend to think of Southern demagogues and Sunbelt conservatives in opposition to one other, but in fact, from roughly 1948 through some time in the 1970s, Thurmond was both at the same time. Unraveling that paradox has a lot to tell us, I think, about both Southern and national politics over the last half century.”

Released Sept. 4 by Hill and Wang, the biography addresses how Thurmond made his own brand of politics central to American life. One way Thurmond accomplished that was through his 50 years of service in the U.S. Senate.

“Another was by sheer ambition and force of will,” Crespino said. “From 1948 forward, Thurmond was intent on having a say in national, not just regional, politics, and he was a forceful and tireless advocate for a variety of causes that at the time he first pursued them were on the far right of the Republican Party, but which today are thoroughly mainstream.”

Crespino grew up in a small town in Mississippi where he says “the legacies of racial segregation and civil rights struggle were very real” and came of age politically in the 1980s in the midst of the Reagan Revolution. He said growing up in the deep South helped shape his future as a political historian and his research, which focuses on making better sense of the racial and political change in the South since the 1950s and its connection to the country’s national political life.

He joined Emory’s faculty in 2003 after earning his master’s and doctoral degrees in history from Stanford University. Crespino is the director of undergraduate studies in the history department at Emory and is a distinguished lecturer for the Organization of American Historians. His first book, “In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution,” was published in 2007. His current projects include ones on the history of civil rights struggles in the American South and a study of Atticus Finch, the hero of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The Phil Grose lecture is sponsored by the College of Arts and SciencesInstitute for Southern Studies and the History Center, and the University Libraries’ South Carolina Political Collections. It honors Grose, a longtime Southern Studies Research Fellow and writer who died earlier this year. Grose’s books include “Looking for Utopia: The Life and Times of John C. West” and “South Carolina at the Brink: Robert McNair and the Politics of Civil Rights.

For more information about the inaugural Phil Grose Lecture, contact Bob Ellis at 803-777-2340 or via email at

If you're going

  • Who: Historian Joseph Crespino
  • What: Lecture based on his political biography "Strom Thurmond's America" Training to
  • When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18
  • Where: Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library

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Posted: 09/10/12 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 09/17/12 @ 10:30 PM | Permalink