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This week, I received an email from my alma mater, asking me to attend a dinner honoring the 50th anniversary of the university's integration. In 1963, Clemson opened its doors to Harvey Gantt, an extraordinary man who has made a name for himself in North Carolina politics. Before he was running for Senate against racist Jesse Helms in that state, Gantt was making his name at Clemson. He earned a degree in architecture, graduating from that difficult program with honors. He went on to MIT, where he earned his Master's in city planning.

To honor the anniversary of this great event, Clemson has planned an evening with speakers and art. The school is selling tickets, $10 of which will go to a fund that promotes diversity within the school.

But on this great occasion, I am left to wonder just what my school is doing to honor the legacy of inclusion begun by Harvey Gantt. When he bravely walked into his first class, he drug Clemson into the modern era. One significant campus landmark remains, though, and it honors the legacy of a nefarious man who should not be celebrated in any way on a campus that seeks to promote its diversity.

Just behind the library, where students make good on the education that Harvey Gantt helped make a reality, there sits the Strom Thurmond Institute. An imposing structure, the institute houses the Senator's papers and memorabilia from his political career. More than just a nod to the past, this institute serves as a living memorial to a man who stood for everything that was wrong with 20th century America. And I think it's time we ask the question - why does Clemson University continue to honor the legacy of a vile racist?

During his 1948 presidential campaign, Strom Thurmond ran through the South on the following platform:

"I want to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, there’s not enough
            troops in the army to force the southern people to break
            down segregation and accept the Negro [pronounced Nigra]
            into our theatres, into our swimming pools, into our homes,
            and into our churches."
His overt hostility to black people has been well documented. Thurmond once led the longest filibuster in Senate history in order to stall the passage of the Civil Rights Act. He left the democratic party after that party supported the cause of people he openly referred to as "nigras." Themes of racism are so intertwined with the legacy of Thurmond that Thomas Bradshaw wrote a satirical play entitled Strom Thurmond is Not a Racist. John Ibbitson described Thurmond's legislative efforts in the following manner:
He fought school desegregation tooth and claw. In 1957, in an attempt to defeat civil-rights legislation, he embarked on the longest filibuster in Senate history: 24 hours 18 minutes. When Lyndon Johnson nominated Thurgood Marshall as the first black justice of the Supreme Court in 1967, Mr. Thurmond tormented him at the confirmation hearing by asking 60 arcane legal questions.
Many Thurmond apologists claim that he had a late-life revival of the spirit, but that hardly seems a fair characterization. Knowing he had lost, it made little political sense for Thurmond to fight an abandoned battle. To Strom Thurmond, the phrase, "Times have changed" meant that the racists were outnumbered, not that he'd personality changed in any meaningful way. Ibbitson went on to describe the "evolution" of the Senator when he wrote:
But, by then, his cause was lost. And so, as more and more blacks began exercising their right to vote, Mr. Thurmond retired from the field of racial battle. Like a Nazi who changes into a suit, he began hiring blacks in his office, and supporting their causes. "Times have changed," he would explain. His new tone and, far more important, his impressive fundraising machine and his acumen at dispensing pork, helped to ensure his political survival. It didn't hurt that the good ol' boys of South Carolina knew that, in his heart, he was still one of them.
Strom Thurmond's racism was so strong that he never truly loved the bi-racial daughter he father with his parents' 16-year old maid. To say nothing of a 22-year old man taking advantage of a girl six years his junior, Thurmond subjected his daughter to a lifetime of isolation. A USA Today report notes:
She says she saw her father at least 60 times over six decades. "Wherever he was, I saw him." Yet, she writes, despite the hugs and kisses, the phone calls, the Father's Day cards, the trip souvenirs and the graduation presents, they never shared a meal or said "I love you" to each other.
Essie Washington-Williams is that daughter, and she wrote in her autobiography:
"As much as I wanted to 'belong' to him, I never felt like a daughter, only an accident."
But that was Strom Thurmond - a man who spent his entire political life fighting against the rights of his own daughter simply because she was partially black. If he wanted to truly show a change of heart, he could have at least claimed his daughter in his later years. He never publicly took that step, and the family only recently recognized Washington-Williams's relation after she threatened to prove it with DNA testing.

Further evidence of Thurmond's racism seems unnecessary at this point - like sending 100 foot soldiers into Nagasaki. It's a well-established fact and it's mostly undisputed among people in the rational world. The question then becomes one that Clemson University should and must answer - why do you, while also claiming to value diversity and inclusion, honor the record of this racist with an important university department?

At the dedication ceremony for the Strom Thurmond Institute, the Senator had this to say, among other things:

"It is my hope that the Institute will encourage young people to strive, to achieve, to excel, and to dream.

It is my hope that this institute will be a catalyst for public service and better government. It is my hope that this Institute will be a beacon of light and a source of pride for generations to come."

On its own website, Clemson University describes the Strom Thurmond Institute's purpose:
The Center's programs will embody the philosophy and values of Senator Thurmond and will be characterized by his pursuit of excellence and undaunted spirit of civic purpose.

I have to ask of my university - what exactly was the philosophy of Strom Thurmond? What were the values that drove his life that you want the center's programs to "embody?" Short of conducting research on how to best roll back voting rights and how to enlarge prison populations through overzealous drug prosecution, I can't think of many modern policy initiatives that would embody the things that Strom Thurmond stood for.

The institute was established shortly after the Senator decided to donate his papers to the university, and, in reality, it does good work. Certain agricultural research and alternative energy research has taken place there, among other things. The institute also hosts a speaker series and puts on a number of events throughout the year. The establishment of a policy center - even one that acknowledges the history of Strom Thurmond - is not at issue here. The issue is Clemson University's willingness to celebrate the values and philosophy of a man who stood directly opposed to basic human rights for an entire sub-set of the population.

Is it any surprise that Clemson University is still fighting an uphill battle in the area of race relations? Just a few years ago, when I was a student, anumber of Clemson students made national news by "celebrating" Martin Luther King's birthday in black-face at a party they dubbed "Living the Dream." This strained race relations on campus, but to the credit of the black community there, the school saw no significant retaliation or fallout.

And just this fall, a significant portion of the Memorial Stadium crowd booed the mention of the office of president during a military oath in what I believe to be a racially-motivated display.

Clemson University has a minority enrollment of just more than 15%, with black students being the most populous minority. And the school pays lip service to the idea of racial inclusiveness. The integration of Clemson University was peaceful, and when compared to other Southern schools, it was done with integrity. The school wants you to know all about that, and you can do so by purchasing its book called Integration with Dignity. Even Gantt himself speaks highly of his experience at Clemson:

“What I found most hopeful in my years as a student was that a good many of us, 18 to 22 years old, had a positive belief that our state and indeed our nation would undergo some struggles, but better days were ahead for them and for me and for people who looked like me,” he said. “And a lot of us left Clemson with the belief that we could make a difference.”
While Strom Thurmond was out fighting against the integration of places like Clemson, another of the state's senators - Ernest "Fritz" Hollings - tried his very best to pull South Carolina out of the muck of its own ugly racism. Speaking of integration and Gantt, he said:
...This General Assembly must make clear South Carolina’s choice, a government of laws rather than a government of men ... This should be done with dignity. It must be done with law and order.
On Clemson's campus today, you can find about Harvey Gantt if you are inclined to ask a few questions. You can read about Fritz Hollings if you take a political history course. But you only have to walk a few steps from the library to learn all about Strom Thurmond, the living embodiment of a racist regime that tried to prevent the very integration that Clemson will celebrate this month. I see no reason to ignore history, and I see no good reason for Clemson to pretend that Clemson alumnus Strom Thurmond and his policies did not exist. But I also see no reason to celebrate those things. And I certainly see no reason why Clemson should have a policy institute with a self-stated purpose of embodying the values and principles of the 20th century's most notorious racist.

Dear Old Clemson,
It's time to stop.

Originally posted to Coby DuBose on Criminal Injustice, Race, and Poverty on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 10:09 PM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks, RaceGender DiscrimiNATION, and Black Kos community.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The best (5+ / 0-)

    I can say about Thurmond is I'm sorry he was a racist. I wish he had not been. It is what it is and can't be white washed now.

    Love me some Fritz Hollings, though.

    Facts matter. Joe Biden

    by kpardue on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 10:33:41 PM PST

  •  Excellent post. I am sure you are well aware of... (11+ / 0-)

    ...this, but when I was a kid in the South, anybody who said "nigra" thought they were being polite.

    As for Thurmond's "accident" daughter, she was conceived in the same manner that occurred among his slave-owning ancestors. The master had his way with whomever he wished whenever he wished because he was the master (or the master's son).

    One of the African Americans Thurmond hired for his staff in his later years was Armstrong Williams, the conservative pundit. (Full Disclosure: I supervised the editing of Williams's syndicated column at the Los Angeles Times for two years.) Williams thought Thurmond was a great man, proving, if more proof was needed, how politically blind one can be to one's self-interests.

    Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 10:35:34 PM PST

  •  T&R'd. (Not TR'd, which is wholly different.) (4+ / 0-)

    Ya know, MB, sometimes, when I read you, and I see things like

    Disclosure: I supervised...
    I feel very small.

    And then I feel grateful to walk in the company of such giants.

    Drunken babbling, at any rate.  Merely wanted to say thanks.  Always thought of you as our heart, here.

    We're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine,

    And the machine is bleeding to death.

    by Marcus Tullius on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 11:21:33 PM PST

  •  I applaud you for this well (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dave in Northridge

    thought out and well written piece. That horrible excuse for a person should be forgotten, better still.

    Warmest regards,


    I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

    by Translator on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 12:55:32 AM PST

  •  He may have been a sonofabitch (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dave in Northridge


    The institute was established shortly after the Senator decided to donate his papers to the university, and, in reality, it does good work
    That is all that really matters, right?  If people were using Strom Thurmond as a rallying cry to advocate for state sponsored racism I'd be outraged.  But good works are good works, regardless of whose name they are done in.

    There is truth on all sides. The question is how much.

    by slothlax on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 02:51:26 AM PST

  •  tipped, rec'ed and republished (2+ / 0-)

    thank you.
    Justice Putnam posted this powerful poem

    Dancing with Strom
    By Nikky Finney
    in yesterday's Black Kos.

    Join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news and views written from a black pov—everyone is welcome.

    by Denise Oliver Velez on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 04:33:25 AM PST

  •  This is a well thought out essay. (2+ / 0-)

    However, I can't help thinking that the logical extension of this thinking would be to advocate changing the name of Clemson University since it is named for the son-in-law of John C. Calhoun.

    Any Jackass can kick down a barn. It takes a carpenter to build one. - Sam Rayburn

    by Old Gray Dog on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 05:45:39 AM PST

    •  Well, there is a difference (4+ / 0-)

      And I agree that a line must be drawn somewhere. If we renamed everything in South Carolina named after a racist, we would have to get very creative, even renaming cities (Clemson, SC is a town in itself).

      The difference is that this building was dedicated a short time ago, and its stated purpose is to "embody the principles and values of Strom Thurmond's life." To me, and anyone who is honest about Thurmond's life, this is unacceptable and shameful.

      I feel that Thurmond's political career and life in general is so intertwined with his racism that it's impossible to separate the two, and thus we are celebrating the "principles" of a man who would have stood in Harvey Gantt's way personally if they would have let him.

      "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

      by Grizzard on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 06:14:53 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent, and here's the dilemma (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    justiceputnam, irishwitch

    The papers are there to serve as a phenomenally good source for people who want to study about and publish work on the nature of racial segregation and how it was sustained. It's really the statement you cite about values that's the problem.

    It's there on the website but it really isn't highlighted as a mission statement. It's boilerplate, but it's the worst kind of boilerplate, as you observe so well in this diary. I see the problem. It was built and dedicated while the Senator was still alive. It's appalling, but removing it would sweep a long sordid history of abuse under the rug - disappear it, somewhat.

    -7.75, -8.10; Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Dave in Northridge on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 06:41:56 AM PST

  •  I am also a Clemson alumnus (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Grizzard, justiceputnam, irishwitch

    And I agree with you.  That place was actually built when I was an undergrad there.  In my youthful ignorance, I didn't have a problem with it, but now I do.  I remember learning about Harvey Gantt when I was there, and it is a proud point for Clemson that the integration was peaceful.  But Strom Thurmond was a flat out racist, and I don't think it should be named after him either.

  •  I hope that at least one exhibit at the (0+ / 0-)

    Strom Thurmond Institute explains how Thurmond was guilty of statutory rape, and how that was common behavior among upper class whites toward young black girls in the South for generations.

  •  This is unrelated to the racism or the rape ... (0+ / 0-)

    I was at Clemson when the Strom Thurmond Institute opened.
    There were cops and armed secret service people wearing mirrored sunglasses all over because Dan Quayle was in attendance.  I remember Quayle rambling on about free market principles and how Strom embodied those.  Blah blah blah.

    The story I wanted to tell is that Fritz Hollings got up to say his piece.  He mentioned Gorbachev.  He said, "When I first saw that birthmark on his head, I thought it was a tiger paw."

    Go Tigers.

    PS  On a more serious note: In one of the old Ag buildings, there was a pair of drinking fountains that still said "white" and "colored" above them, very faintly, under a layer of paint.  

  •  Truly, the most fitting tribute to his legacy... (0+ / 0-)

    ...would be to stop honoring him the second more than 50% of the population wants to, and then reverse ourselves as soon as the populace changes their mind.

    Repeat as many times as necessary.

  •  I have often wondered how voluntary (0+ / 0-)

    his relationship was with that 16-year-old maid.  I am betting on sexual harassment at the least--"put out or you lose your job".  Strom seems to have been the sort of rotter you see in BBC Victorian soap operas, the sort of man who'd force himself on an unwilling servant and consider it his sue as the white son of the master. H really belonged more to the 19th c. than the 20th, he and Jesse helm (whom we have to thank for giving RUsh Limbaugh his first break).

    The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

    by irishwitch on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 08:38:11 PM PST

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