Sundays With The Christianists: An American History Textbook Tells Children About Southern Hero Strom Thurmond

This week, a bit of a digression: We'll continue our look at theAge of Reagan next week, but today, we'll follow one of our textbooks off on an astonishing side track that seems mostly to exist because Bob Jones University is located in South Carolina. In its chapter on the Reagan years, our BJU Press text for 11/12th grade, United States History for Christian Schools, devotes a full page and a half text box to the life of Strom Thurmond, who at the time of this 2002 edition's publication was 98 years old and still in the Senate. And so apparently the publishers thought it would be a nice gesture to honor the local hero with a section called "Strom Thurmond: 'Rebel' Politician." The dog whistles in this section are intense enough that they may jump off the page and come through your computer screen; Yr Wonkette apologizes in advance for any discomfort experienced by your housepets.

We know we've said this a lot since we started with these books last year, but it's pretty amazing how much a history book can lie with partial truths. The section starts off with a shout-out to another secessionist hero, suggesting that there's something in the state's topsoil that just naturally incubates such fine men:

Born in the South Carolina upcountry that had produced John C. Calhoun, James Strom Thurmond followed a path that likewise led to prominence in the United States Senate. Although he has worn a number of party labels throughout his career, Thurmond was at heart a populist and an individualist ready to fight the political establishment.

And to fight the blacks, of course, but "segregation" is one word that appears nowhere in the section. Rather, we're told, that individualistic populism "often landed him at the forefront of political trends mirroring momentous changes in American politics." You know, like resistance to letting black people vote.

After a brief sketch of his early life up through his election as governor in 1946, we learn of Thurmond's plucky willingness to buck convention. At least this paragraph acknowledges what the issue was -- without too many troublesome details, of course:

Most politicians run for the presidency as the culmination of their careers, but Thurmond mounted a White House campaign in 1948, early in his career. Southern delegates, including Thurmond, walked out of the 1948 Democratic National Convention because of opposition to its civil rights position.

And here's something you may want to bring up when you hear from one of those trolls who like to claim that the Republicans were the chief advocates of desegregation: As Smithsonian magazine details, that 1948 Democratic platform supported "abolition of state poll taxes in federal elections, an anti-lynching law, a permanent fair employment practices committee and desegregation of the armed forces."* And of course, two weeks after Thurmond and the others walked out of that convention, President Truman made good on his promise to issue an executive order desegregating the military -- a detail that was covered approvingly in U.S. History's section on the postwar years, but conveniently left out of this triumphant discussion of Thurmond and the Dixiecrats:

Conservative southern Democrats met in Birmingham, organized the States’ Rights Democratic Party, and nominated Thurmond as president and Gov. Fielding Wright of Mississippi as vice president. The "Dixiecrats," as they were called, hoped to throw the election to the House, where a southern bloc could reach a compromise with liberal Democrats. The South Carolina governor carried four states and received the largest third-party vote for president since Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive party in 1912.

Strangely enough, the textbook doesn't mention the campaign speech in which Thurmond proclaimed,

I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there's not enough troops in the army to force the southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theatres into our swimming pools into our homes and into our churches.

Probably just wasn't enough room. You can never fit in everything you might want to.

The section's biggest lie comes in its discussion of one of the hallmarks of Thurmond's career: his 24 hour, 18-minute filibuster (still the longest ever) against the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The good Christian children reading U.S. History will learn only this much about that bit of record-setting:

While serving in the Senate, he achieved another distinction: delivering the longest speech in the United States Senate history. He defended jury trials in a filibuster lasting twenty-four hours and eighteen minutes.

No mention of the Civil Rights law at all -- and not only that, even "he defended jury trials" is a pretty nugget of highly polished, extremely selective truth: Thurmond was filibustering the entire bill, which created a civil rights commission that would investigate voting rights and established a civil rights division in the Justice Department. Thurmond argued that one section of the bill, which gave the U.S. attorney general the ability to file civil suits to protect blacks' access to schools and to voting rights, violated the right to a trial by jury, and in fact, he had a point -- but not one that the editors of U.S. History would care to acknowledge: in a 2007 column on the bill's 50th anniversary, Historian David Nichols explained why that shift from criminal to civil prosecution was included:

in 1957, civil rights prosecutions were carried out by the criminal division of the Justice Department, and offenses would be subject to jury trials. Given the all-white juries of the South, prosecutions were acts in futility. Thus Eisenhower and [Attorney General Herbert] Brownell wanted to open these cases to civil suits, without a jury, that could result in a court order and, if resisted, a contempt citation.

Southern senators objected that such contempt citations -- which they knew would be inevitable because why on earth would Southerners ever let blacks go to integrated schools or vote -- would deny their constituents the right to a trial by jury. An all-white jury that would acquit them, as is only fair. Hence, the filibuster -- which, incidentally, came even after Lyndon Johnson, playing his own power games, pushed through an amendment to the bill that provided for jury trials in such contempt cases, largely taking the regulatory teeth out of the bill.

And there, children, we have the full story of how a few words can conceal a pretty monstrous lie. "He defended jury trials" indeed.

We also learn that in the 1960s, Thurmond

rebelled again by endorsing conservative Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. Moreover, he switched to the Republican party. Thurmond’s action symbolized the end of the solidly Democratic South and the emergence of a two-party system in the region. The Democratic party had become too liberal for Thurmond and other Southerners.

"Too liberal" on any particular issue? Don't be silly! Kids have so much to remember; why burden them with too many details? And then there's this:

His most important service for his newly adopted party came in 1968, when he campaigned hard for Richard Nixon in a "southern strategy" that would keep third-party candidate George Wallace from sweeping the South.

Gosh, do the kids need to know what George Wallace's main issue was in 1968? (Duh, it was "law and order." Oh, and also segregation. Because you can't have law and order if there's race-mixing going on.)

The section closes with a paragraph about how Thurmond sought redemption by reaching out to The Blacks:

After years of fighting the government’s civil rights agenda, Thurmond in the 1970s softened his position on the issue. Blacks registered in increasing numbers after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Thurmond’s willingness to change with the time helped him survive politically. He courted blacks by appointing them to his staff, voting for congressional representation for the District of Columbia, and supporting the appointment of a black federal judge in South Carolina.

So everything was OK! Heck, he even voted for a Martin Luther King Day federal holiday, though perhaps that was too controversial for the target audience for U.S. History to mention.  Never mind that while he did indeed change just enough to get reelected, Thurmond never got around to apologizing for, or even explicitly renouncing his earlier obstructionism on civil rights. He just bent enough to stay in office. What a hero.

In a happy accident of timing, the edition of U.S. History we're using was published in 2002, shortly before Thurmond's retirement and death in 2003, when we also learned that he'd fathered Essie Mae Washington-Williams, when he was 22 and her mother was a 16-year-old working for the Thurmond family. But hey, he gave her money, and what's a little bit of interracial rape, statutory or otherwise, for a fiercely independent populist? We haven't shelled out 40 to 50 bucks for the most recent edition of U.S. History, published in 2012, so we aren't at all sure whether the new version acknowledges Ms. Washington-Williams, or indeed whether it keeps the section on Thurmond at all.

One of the "fun" things about "Sundays With the Christianists" is having a reason to dig up old Wonket pieces like this one from 2003, which we hope will eventually find its way into a future edition of U.S. History. The Washington Times brought us this little anecdote from black conservative pundit Armstrong Williams, in which we learn that Thurmond really did acknowledge his daughter, despite reports to the contrary...if by "acknowledge," you mean disgusting innuendoes about how he liked a little dark meat now and then:

Senator Thurmond leaned over and said, "You know, I have deep roots in the black community … deep roots."

His voice softened into a raspy whisper, "You’ve heard the rumors."

"Are they just rumors, Senator?" I asked.

"I’ve had a fulfilling life," cackled Thurmond, winking salaciously.

Throw that conversation in, and they could even re-title the section "Pretty fly for a White Guy."

*The 1948 convention was also where good old Hubert Humphrey, then the Mayor of Minneapolis and a candidate for the Senate, came to national attention with a speech calling for the "Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states' rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights."

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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