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Strom Thurmond Collection, Gubernatorial Series

 Series — Box: 1-169
Identifier: Mss-0100-08

Scope and Content Note

The Gubernatorial Papers consists of affidavits, appointment books, articles, biographical sketches, budgets, clippings, correspondence, daily schedule books, drafts of letters and speeches, election returns, financial records, invitations, lists, memos, minutes, notes, petitions, photographs, political advertisements, postcards, press releases, proclamations, promotional materials, reports, resolutions, routing slips, copies of completed surveys, telegrams, teletypes and warrants. The Papers date from 1923 to 1955, although the bulk of the material is from the period 1946 to 1951, encompassing Thurmond's gubernatorial campaign and governorship.

The Official subseries consists mainly of correspondence from officials of state boards, bureaus, colleges, commissions, departments and divisions, as well as correspondence from federal and local officials and from constituents. This series also includes reports from state agencies, Thurmond's proclamations while Governor, correspondence regarding appointments at the state and county levels, material relating to extraditions to and from the state of South Carolina and correspondence concerning the award of honorary "colonel" commissions. The Personal subseries is a mixture of true personal and uncategorized official correspondence, mainly to Thurmond, but there are also letters to his administrative assistant, William Lowndes Daniel, Jr., and to his wife, Jean Crouch Thurmond.

The Campaigns subseries documents the political campaigns Strom Thurmond was involved in during the gubernatorial period-the 1946 gubernatorial campaign; the 1948 States' Rights campaign for President of the United States against Harry S. Truman and Thomas E. Dewey; and the 1950 senatorial campaign against incumbent Olin D. Johnston. This series has the largest amount of extant material on the States' Rights Democratic Party, especially the South Carolina branch.

In addition to highlighting one important portion of Strom Thurmond's long and distinguished public career, topics of interest in the series include agriculture; the state budget; civil rights; conservation; economic development; education, including regional education, trade schools and state universities such as Clemson University, the University of South Carolina and Winthrop University; election reform; railroad freight rate equalization; state government reorganization; the activities of the Governors' Conference and the Southern Governor's Conference (Thurmond was chairman of the latter group in 1950); health; highways; labor; law enforcement; the lynching of Willie Earle and Thurmond's efforts to have the perpetrators brought to justice; national and state politics; prisons; probation, pardon and parole; race relations; river and harbor improvements; rural electrification; taxes; temperance; the textile industry; the Thurmond family, especially Jean Crouch Thurmond; welfare; and women in government, including reaction to the appointment of Faith Clayton to the South Carolina Industrial Commission in 1949.

Among the important correspondents in the Papers are Joe F. Anderson, G. H. Aull, J. Perrin Anderson, William P. Baskin, Christie Benet, Mary Thurmond Bishop, W. G. and Martha Bishop, Eugene S. Blease, Benjamin A. Bolt, J. K. Breedin, Edgar Brown, Walter Brown, Joseph R. Bryson, J. Fred Buzhardt, J. Fred Buzhardt Jr., James F. Byrnes, Millard F. Caldwell, John K. Cauthen, John Commins, R. M. Cooper, Horace Crouch, John Bolt Culbertson, Charles E. Daniel, D. W. Daniel, William Jennings Bryan Dorn, John Drake, F. M. Easterlin, J. Drake Edens, Annie Mae Fields, Robert McC. Figg Jr., Cedric Foster, Alester Furman, T. J. Gasque, Mrs. Nathaniel (Christine) Gist Gee, Merritt H. Gibson, L. Mell Glenn, Billy Graham, John Temple Graves, Wil Lou Gray, James H. Hammond, W. G. ("Grady") Hazel, James M. Hinton, P. B. Holtzendorff Jr., J. Edgar Hoover, Beverly Howard, F. Mildred Huggins, Olin Johnston, Bob Jones, Bob Jones Jr., Dr. Waldo H. Jones, J. Carl Kearse, Robert M. Kennedy Jr., James C. Kinard, John D. Lane, Cliff Langford, Calhoun Lemon, Samuel A. Libater, Bruce Littlejohn, J. C. Littlejohn, Burnet R. Maybank, Gessner T. McCorvey, John R. McCravy, Sid McMath, John L. McMillan, Charles W. McTeer, Thomas R. Miller, Roger Milliken, E. W. Montgomery, Lester J. Moody, Charles M. Pace, Fred J. Pearman, Fred Pearman Jr., Drew Pearson, Robert F. Poole, Paul Quattlebaum, Paul Quattlebaum Jr., Leon L. Rice, L. Mendel Rivers, Ruth Roettinger, Richard B. Russell Jr., C. E. Sasser, Glenn Saunders, Aaron Schwartz, James C. Self, Norma F. Shannonhouse, Henry R. Sims, Hugo S. Sims, William G. Sirrine, Norman M. Smith, John M. Spratt, Herman Talmadge, Frank A. Tompkins, Robert and Mary Tompkins, M. E. Thompson, Allan George Thurmond, Eleanor Gertrude Thurmond, John William Thurmond, John William and Elizabeth Thurmond, Jr., Mamie Norris Tillman, George Bell Timmerman Jr., Sidney S. Tison, Harry Truman, William M. Tuck, Cornelia Dabney Tucker, Grady L. Wade, George C. Wallace, George Warren, Sam T. Watkins, Horace C. Wilkerson, B. O. Williams, Rosamonde Wimberly, Caldwell Withers, Julian S. Wolfe, J. H. ("Jake") Woodward, Roland F. Wooton, Fielding Wright, W. W. Wright and Jessie W. Wylie


  • 1923 - 1955
  • 1946 - 1951


1946 Gubernatorial Campaign

After returning from his military service in World War II in early 1946, Thurmond resumed his circuit court judgeship. During the spring he discussed running for governor with family, friends and potential backers around the state, trying to determine if there was enough support for a successful campaign. Convinced that he had a good chance of winning the governorship, Thurmond announced his candidacy on May 15, 1946 and resigned his circuit court judgeship.

Faced with a large field of candidates that included former governor Ransome J. Williams, Thurmond stressed his years of public service as a teacher, county superintendent of education, state senator, circuit court judge and soldier. He campaigned on what was considered a progressive platform that called for the secret ballot, the elimination of the poll tax, increased support for education and welfare programs, improved education facilities for blacks, support for returning veterans and cuts in public utility rates. Thurmond also opposed strengthening the state police system and the misuse of the governor's pardon power.

However, it was his outspoken opposition to the "Barnwell Ring" that brought him recognition and publicity during the campaign. The term referred to the unusual amount of political influence wielded by a small circle of legislators from Barnwell County, the most important of these being Edgar Brown, President Pro Tempore of the State Senate and Solomon Blatt, Speaker of the State House of Representatives. Thurmond charged that they ran the state for their own benefit and controlled appointments to state boards and commissions. Brown and Blatt denied this and charged that Thurmond had come to them looking for support for his gubernatorial campaign. The feud over the supposed existence of the "ring" dominated the news, pushed the other candidates into the background and allowed Thurmond to run as an "outsider" who was fighting for the "common man."

The results of the August 13, 1946 primary election were: Thurmond, 96,691 votes; Dr. James C. McLeod, 83,464 votes; Ransome J. Williams, 35,813 votes; John C. Taylor, 22,447 votes; Del O'Neal, 16,574 votes; John D. Long, 16,503 votes; Carl B. Epps, 5,189 votes; Marcus A. Stone, 4,353 votes; A. L. Wood, 3,040 votes; A. J. Beattie, 2,889 votes; and Roger W. Scott, 2,251 votes. Since neither of the top two candidates, Thurmond and Dr. McLeod, had received a majority of the votes, a run-off election was held. Thurmond used the time between the two elections to continue to campaign on his record and to promise that he would serve a full four-year term as governor without seeking higher office. Since the two previous governors had done precisely that, Thurmond's promise garnered him additional support from the voters. He won the September 3, 1946 run-off election with 144,420 votes to McLeod's 109,169 votes.

Historical Sketch

Thurmond as Governor

Thurmond was inaugurated as the 77th Governor of South Carolina on January 21, 1947. In his inaugural address he summarized a detailed plan of action, which was based on his campaign platform. The plan encompassed twenty-four general areas such as state government reorganization, election and education reform, dual office holding and economic development. By the end of his term, he had accomplished almost all of the goals he had laid out in this speech. He was able to do this in spite of a governmental structure in which the legislature held most of the power and the executive branch was dependent upon their goodwill and the governor's persuasive power to get any program enacted.

The following items are among the major accomplishments achieved during Thurmond's term of office:

Missing Title

  1. the pardon and parole power was removed from the governor and given to a state board;
  2. the state government was reorganized, including the creation of the Budget and Control Board from ten different departments and the implementation of centralized purchasing;
  3. a number of economic development projects were undertaken, such as highway and road improvements and seaport development, resulting in the state's credit rating rising to AA;
  4. the poll tax was eliminated and the secret ballot instituted;
  5. a uniform nine-month state-supported school term was established, a twelfth grade was added, the state library program was expanded, salaries for teachers were improved and compulsory attendance laws were enacted;
  6. more women were appointed to state offices than had been in any previous gubernatorial administration;
  7. initiatives to equalize railroad freight rates and to develop a regional education system were undertaken in cooperation with the Southern Governor's Conference;
  8. there were improvements in health services, including the creation of county health centers and a cancer control program;
  9. area trade schools and new parks were developed for each race;
  10. the law against dual office holding was enforced, and
  11. there was increased support for public welfare programs for the needy, elderly, and handicapped and dependent children.

These accomplishments echoed some of the changes the state was undergoing at the time. Among the events that occurred during the period 1947-1951 were the construction of the state's first skyscraper (Columbia, 1948), the first performance of the Greenville Symphony in 1948, the legalization of divorce in 1949, the opening of the Columbia Museum of Art in 1950 and the selection that same year by Atomic Energy Commission and DuPont of a site for the Savannah River plant, which would manufacture plutonium and tritium for nuclear weapons. There were major civil rights advances during the period as well; the ruling on July 12, 1947 by Judge Waites Waring (which was upheld on appeal) on the Elmore v. Rice case ending the all-white Democratic primary, the defeat by the courts of attempts to exclude blacks from the Democratic Party by means of a loyalty oath and the November 11, 1949 filing of a discrimination suit against the Clarendon County school system by the county's black parents, which eventually became part of the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case.

Thurmond's term was not without controversy. In addition to the bruising political battles of the 1948 Presidential and 1950 Senatorial campaigns, there was his September 16, 1947 speech to a meeting of the South Carolina Realtors' in which he condemned their role in the housing situation and the opposition to some of his appointments to various state boards and commissions. The legality of his appointment of James J. Reid as chairman of the Industrial Commission in 1947 was challenged by the state attorney general; Reid was forced to resign later that same year, although Thurmond reappointed him to the Commission in 1948. His attempt to appoint Faith Clayton to the Industrial Commission in 1949 as part of his efforts to fulfill his campaign promise to appoint more women to state office ran into legislative opposition that delayed her confirmation in the post until 1950. A number of individuals questioned Thurmond's appointments of honorary "colonels," claiming they were being used as political rewards. However, the event that first brought him to national attention was his handling of the lynching of Willie Earle.

Willie Earle was a young black man arrested on February 16, 1947 for the murder of Greenville cabdriver Thomas Watson Brown. Earle was taken from the Pickens County jail and lynched by a mob the day after his arrest. Thurmond immediately ordered the state constabulary to make every effort to solve the case and called for an outside state prosecutor to ensure vigorous prosecution of the perpetrators of the crime. He also requested assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Due to his efforts members of mob were arrested and put on trial in May 1947. Although the defendants were acquitted by all-white male jury, it was clear that lynching would no longer be tolerated in the state; the Earle lynching was the last one in South Carolina history. Thurmond was praised by numerous individuals and in the press for his efforts to arrest and try the lynchers. The events of the following year, however, would lead to a rapid erosion of this goodwill.

1948 Presidential Campaign

The States' Rights campaign has been seen as a reaction to the October 1947 report of President's Committee on Civil Rights, pending court cases that challenged segregation and, most of all, to President Truman's proposed federal civil rights program that included anti-poll tax legislation, a federal anti-lynching law, the establishment of a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) and the elimination of discrimination in interstate transportation facilities. This program was announced on February 2, only five days before the Southern Governor's Conference was scheduled to meet in Wakulla Springs, Florida.

Although some governors, such as Fielding Wright of Mississippi, advocated forming a new party, others were not prepared to reject their traditional allegiance to the Democratic Party. The governors finally agreed to a proposal made by Thurmond to wait for forty days (reduced from sixty) before taking any action. During this period a committee of governors would study and evaluate the civil rights program and its impact on the South, meet with Democratic Party officials for clarification and to express their reservations and then report back at another meeting of the Conference. Thurmond was named as chair of the committee.

During this "cooling-off" period opposition to Truman's program grew. On February 12 Mississippi Democrats met to plan a revolt against the national Democratic Party. A headquarters for the states' rights movement was opened in Jackson, Mississippi on February 16 and another states' rights strategy meeting was held on February 22, drawing representatives from ten southern states. On February 19 the South Carolina delegation, which included Thurmond and Olin Johnston, refused to attend the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Washington, D.C. where Truman was to be the featured speaker. The next day southern congressmen announced their unified opposition to the proposed civil rights program.

Thurmond and his committee met with Senator J. Howard McGrath, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, on February 23, but were unable to gain any concessions from the national leadership. Thurmond's committee then wrote its report, criticizing Truman's civil rights program and recommending that the southern states send delegates to the Democratic Convention and the Electoral College who would refuse to support pro-civil rights candidates. The report also recommended working for the restoration of the "two-thirds" rule, which required that the Democratic presidential nominee receive two-thirds of the convention delegates' vote rather than a simple majority. The report was accepted by the Southern Governor's Conference when it met in Washington, D.C. on March 12.

States' rights supporters asked Thurmond to be the keynote speaker at their May 10 meeting in Jackson. He complied, launching a strong attack against Truman and his civil rights program. Delegates at the meeting ratified a plan to support a states' rights plank in the Democratic Party platform, to oppose any civil rights language and to meet again on July 17 in Birmingham, Alabama if the states' rights delegates were not admitted to the Democratic Convention or they were unsuccessful in achieving their goals.

At the July Democratic Party Convention in Philadelphia, both Mississippi and South Carolina faced (ultimately unsuccessful) moves to unseat their state delegations. Southern delegates were initially unable to agree on a opposition candidate to Truman, although they did agree to fight the inclusion of a strong civil rights plank in the party platform; however, their attempts to amend the civil rights plank were unsuccessful. As a result, all of the Mississippi delegation and half of the Alabama delegation "bolted" the convention. Attempts to insert a states' rights plank or restore the "two-thirds" rule failed. Governor Ben Laney of Arkansas finally agreed to be the southerners' candidate to oppose Truman, but backed out at the last minute. Instead, Senator Richard Russell of Georgia was nominated by the southern delegates; Thurmond seconded his nomination. Truman won the nomination on the first ballot, 947 1/2 votes to 263 (mainly southern votes) for Russell.

Delegates that had "bolted" the Democratic Convention, as well as states' rights supporters representing other states, met in Birmingham, Alabama on July 17. They adopted a "statement of principles" that became the platform of the States' Right Democratic Party. The party's platform supported states' rights under Article X of the Bill of Rights. It opposed the federal civil rights program and the centralization of power in the federal government and warned of danger of catering to minority blocs. The party's goal was to restore the South to its "rightful place" in the political life of nation.

Thurmond had not planned to attend the meeting, but changed his mind. Once there, he was approached by delegates from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi and offered the presidential nomination; he was given one hour to decide. Thurmond accepted the offer and Fielding Wright agreed to be the nominee for Vice President. They were then presented to the "convention" as candidates, with Senator James Eastland of Mississippi seconding the nominations. Both men made their acceptance speeches at a more formal nominating convention held in Houston, Texas on August 11.

After the nomination Thurmond campaigned vigorously in the South, denouncing Truman's civil rights program (especially the FEPC) at every opportunity and extolling the virtues of states' rights versus the increasing encroachments of federal power. Since it was unlikely that the party would be able to defeat Truman directly, the strategy was to siphon off enough votes from Truman to throw the election into the U.S. House of Representatives, where the South could control the outcome of the election, bartering its support for concessions on civil rights. There was little attempt to campaign in the North, based partly on the Southern focus of the party, partly on the lack of time before the election and partly on the lack of a well-funded and sophisticated campaign organization. Meanwhile, the States' Rights Democrats, believing that they were the "true" Democratic Party, attempted to get on the ballot by working through existing state Democratic Party organizations and gaining their endorsement. Although successful in becoming the "official" Democratic Party slate in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina, the party failed to do so in the rest of the South, most notably in the important states of Georgia, North Carolina and Texas. In the former four states the party ran as the States' Rights Democratic Party; it ran as the State's Rights Party elsewhere (The term "Dixiecrats" was coined by the media and was not used by States' Rights supporters).

When the election results were announced Thurmond had received 1,176,125 votes, 2.4% of the total votes cast. He had carried the states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina for a total of thirty-nine electoral votes (the extra vote was from a Tennessee elector). However, the State's Rights Democratic Party had run a distant third behind the Democratic and Republican parties and had failed to throw the election into the House. Media hostility to the States' Rights Democratic Party during the campaign and the reluctance of many political leaders and their followers to discard their traditional allegiance to the Democratic Party in large part explained why Thurmond did not do better in the polls.

There is much debate about the long term effects of the States' Rights campaign. Some have argued that the campaign was a failure because of Truman's victory and the eventual enactment of civil rights legislation. Regional concerns had failed to gain support, even within the region itself, and the Democratic Party had survived the defection of the South, thus pointing to a decline in the influence of white politicians from "black-belt" states and the growing importance of the black vote, especially in the North. Others have pointed out that the States' Rights Democrats succeeded in drawing political attention back to the South and ensured that the region would play an important role in Presidential politics from that point forward. They also note that the relative success of the campaign may have helped to delay civil rights legislation, leaving it to the Supreme Court (and not Congress) to make the important breakthroughs regarding civil rights.

Many scholars feel that the campaign solidified the movement of the Democratic Party to the left, at least on domestic issues, and sharpened factional lines within the party. The 1948 campaign is also thought to have helped create the two-party system in South, although some believe that it may have delayed that process by giving southerners an alternative to voting Republican. Ironically, in the opinion of some researchers, the loosening of ties to the Democratic Party may have helped African-Americans gain more political power by weakening the party machinery in the South that oppressed them. Finally, the lessons of the States' Rights campaign may have influenced George Wallace's strategy in the 1968 Presidential campaign.

As for Thurmond, the effects of the 1948 campaign would be felt in 1950, as he attempted to take the next step in his political career-becoming a U.S. Senator.

1950 Senatorial Campaign

On April 29, 1950, Thurmond announced his candidacy for the Senate seat held by Olin D. Johnston, ending months of speculation and preparation. In his campaign Thurmond favored a strong national defense, a bi-partisan foreign policy, the Marshall Plan, a strong United Nations (but not to the extent it would become a "world government"), anti-communist efforts at home and abroad, economy in government spending, the repeal of excise taxes, states' rights, the continuation of federal farm program on the principles of the 1938 Agricultural Adjustment Act, rural electrification, crop insurance, the rights of labor under the laws current in 1950, railroad freight rate equality, legislative control over non-judicial conduct of federal judges and segregation. He opposed the federalization of National Guard, the desegregation of armed forces, peace-time deficit spending, federal farm subsidies, federal aid to education, the socialization of business and medicine, compulsory national health insurance and federal civil rights legislation.

The main thrust of Thurmond's campaign, however, was to criticize Johnston's pardon record while governor (1935-1940, 1943-47) and his support for Truman, a course of action strongly supported by two of his closest advisors, Walter Brown and Robert McC. Figg. Thurmond accused Johnston of running a pardon-for-pay "racket" and of "disloyalty" to the Democratic Party. He also attacked the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and charged that Johnston did not do enough to halt desegregation of armed forces.

Johnston countered by raising the McFall appointment and his July 1948 invitation to another African-American, Governor William H. Hastie of the Virgin Islands, to stay at Governor's Mansion. In the former case, the South Carolina Medical Association "absolved" Thurmond by noting that, by law, the governor must appoint the individual the Association recommends for the Board. As for the latter, Thurmond explained that the invitation had been tendered as a matter of routine to all gubernatorial participants at a conference and that no one had realized that Governor Hastie was black before the invitation was sent. By then end of the campaign both candidates were trying to position themselves as defenders of segregation and their opponent as "soft" on the federal civil rights program.

When the returns of the July 11, 1950 primary came in, Thurmond had lost the election, 158,904 votes to Olin Johnston's 186,180 votes. Factors cited by Thurmond biographers for his defeat include the black vote, most of which is thought to have gone to Johnston; the onset of the Korean War, which made voters reluctant to change elected officials "in mid-stream;" Thurmond's campaign tactics, which focused so much on attacking Johnston that they did not sufficiently tout his own accomplishments and qualifications for Senator and hurt him with both black and white voters; Johnston's commitment to the Democratic Party in contrast to Thurmond's "bolt" in 1948 and his harsh critiques of Truman thereafter; support for Johnston from the national Democratic Party; support for Johnson by labor, most clearly manifested by the active hostility of textile workers faced by Thurmond during his campaign stops in upstate South Carolina.; and the lack of any important issue that would rouse the electorate enough to unseat the incumbent.


75.3 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



The material in the Strom Thurmond Collection Gubernatorial Series includes correspondence (both official and personal), campaign material, speeches and other items documenting Strom Thurmond's term as Governor of South Carolina from 1946-1951. Some of this material was originally part of the holdings of the South Caroliniana Library of The University of South Carolina and the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.


The Gubernatorial Series is arranged in three subseries: Official, Personal, and Campaigns. The subseries are generally arranged alphabetically by folder title and then chronologically.


The material filmed for this publication was received by Special Collections as accessions 82-2 (from Senator Thurmond), 90-112 (transfer from the South Caroliniana Library, The University of South Carolina), 90-121 (transfer from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History) and 98-47 (also from Senator Thurmond).


SourcesCohodas, Nadine. Strom Thurmond and the Politics of Southern Change. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.Ellers, Joseph C. Strom Thurmond: the Public Man. Orangeburg, SC: Sandlapper Publishing, Inc., 1993.Lachicotte, Alberta. Rebel Senator: Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. New York: The Devin-Adair Company, 1967.McLaurin, Ann Mathison. "The role of the Dixiecrats in the 1948 election." PhD dissertation, University of Oklahoma, 1972.Ness, Gary Clifford. "The States' Rights Democratic movement of 1948." PhD dissertation, Duke University, 1972."Thurmond, Strom" biographical files, University Archives Series 38 Biography File, Special Collections, Clemson University Libraries, Clemson, SC.

Processing Information

This finding aid was prepared by James Cross in 1998. Special Collections staff member Laurie Varenhorst assisted with the processing and creation of the descriptions and folder-title lists while Professor Roger Leemhuis of the History Department and student assistants Jeff Bogtong, Maggie Frampton, Jeffrey McQuillan, Mollie Nichols, Laurie Poston, April Ratliffe and Jimmy Rayford helped with the processing.

The conversion of this finding aid to Encoded Archival Description format was made possible with a grant from the South Carolina State Historical Records Advisory Board in 2009-2010. The finding aid was prepared for encoding by Jen Bingham.

Strom Thurmond Collection Gubernatorial Series
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Repository Details

Part of the Clemson University Libraries Special Collections and Archives Repository

230 Kappa St.
Clemson SC 29634 U.S.A. US