James Strom Thurmond was born on December 5, 1902 in Edgefield, South Carolina. He served 48 years as a US Senator representing South Carolina (1954-1964 as a Democrat, 1964-2003 as a Republican - switching parties because of his objection to the 1964 Civil Rights Act), and ran for President in 1948 as the States Rights (or Dixiecrat) candidate. Thurmond is the only person to serve in the Senate past age 100, was the oldest-serving and longest-serving Senator in US history (although Robert Byrd's tenure eventually surpassed Thurmond's).
After graduating from Clemson and serving in WWII, Thurmond returned to South Carolina where he was elected as Governor. During his tenure, Governor Thurmond used his influence to arrest and try members of the lynch mob who murdered Willie Earle, and was congratulated by the NAACP and ACLU for his efforts.
Thurmond became the first person elected to the US Senate as a write-in candidate in 1954. During his 46 years in the Senate, Thurmond was a strong supporter of racial segregation. He denounced the Supreme Courts' decision to desegregate public schools in their Brown v Board of Education decision, and he held the longest filibuster by a single Senator in history against the Civil Rights Act of 1957 - 24 hours and 18 minutes!
On February 4, 1972, Thurmond sent a secret memo to President Nixon, urging him to deport John Lennon because of his activism and political stances. In 1981, Thurmond became the President pro tempore of the US Senate, a post he held for 14 years (longest in history). In 2002, Thurmond declined to run for reelection, and was succeeded by current Senator Lindsey Graham.
Thurmond's first wife, Jean Crouch, died of a brain tumor 13 years into their marriage. They had no children. Thurmond's second wife, Nancy Moore, was 22 when she married the 66 year old Senator. They had 4 children together: Nancy, James, Juliana and Paul. 6 months after Strom Thurmonds' death in 2003, it was discovered that at age 22, he fathered a mixed-race daughter, Essie Mae, with his family's maid, Carrie Butler, a 16-year-old African American girl. While Thurmond never publicly acknowledged Essie Mae, he did pay for her education.
Strom Thurmond died in his sleep on June 26, 2003 from heart failure in Edgefield at age 100. He laid in state at the SC Statehouse, then laid to rest in the family plot at Willowbrook Cemetery in Edgefield. Then-Senator Joe Biden gave the eulogy.
Strom Thurmond's monument at the South Carolina Statehouse remains one of the more controversial items at the Statehouse. Dedicated in 1999, it shows the Senator at age 60 (Thurmond attended the unveiling when he was 97), and lists the names of his children on one side. This list was amended to include Essie Mae's name and correct the inscription to say that Thurmond had 5 children. It also lists the offices that Thurmond held in and for South Carolina.