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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Strom Thurmond, July 20, 1978. Interview A-0334. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Thurmond contrasts Tillman's rhetorical style with his response to laws governing race relations

Senator Benjamin Tillman's eloquence was surprising in comparison to his raucous, violent opinions on American race relations. Thurmond gives his own opinion about how he has respected laws governing race relations and how he would have responded to slavery. He would have supported abolition and reimbursement for slave owners.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Strom Thurmond, July 20, 1978. Interview A-0334. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Either describe your relationship with them or if you have any opinion about them. Benjamin Ryan Tillman, you've said pretty much about.
STROM THURMOND:
I think he was a very able man. I heard one man was telling me about when he was speaking. And when it was known he was going to speak over here, the word got around. All the papers got excited and everybody got excited, 'cause they knew he was going to stir things up every time that he'd speak.
JAMES G. BANKS:
In the Senate.
STROM THURMOND:
Yeah, in the Senate. 'Course, this is just handed down, but I was told that one time; now he didn't finish high school and didn't go to college of course. But he read books and educated himself. Just like I read law with my father, and educated myself with law. Well at any rate, he read literature and books and he knew a lot of Shakespeare. And the Senate got him to speak over there. A lot of senators didn't like him because they felt that on the race question that he was too violent. And so they were walking out. And one senator; he started reciting some Shakespeare.
JAMES G. BANKS:
Tillman was reciting some Shakespeare now?
STROM THURMOND:
Yeah. And this particular senator stopped at the door just for a moment to see if he really knew any Shakespeare. And he got to reciting Shakespeare and he kept on reciting Shakespeare; and this fellow was a literary type man. He returned, went back and sat down and listened;in the back of the senate where they couldn't see him, but he wanted to hear it. And he spoke there for about thirty minutes, reciting Shakespeare. It just amazes me, that here was a fellow, raucous he was, and as violent as he was on the race question. Because, I understood on the race question, that he'd tell you stories about how this black man raped a white woman, go into all these details about pulling her dress, go into all the gory details you know. Well now, that's just handed down. Well of course I didn't admire that part about him. Now I have taken stands in court, some people will say I'm a racist. But I'm really not a racist. I've always helped black people as well as white people. But I've taken stands that I've felt were in accord with the constitution and the law of the state. When I was governor of the state I held up my hand to enforce the laws. And the law was separate schools, separate facilities. But we had no trouble, we didn't have any trouble enforcing; the people obeyed it. But some people haven't understood some of my stands in public life. When the Brown decision was handed down, our state obeyed the law, and I've encouraged them to obey it and there's been no trouble along that line. I came out a day or two ago for representation for the district here. Some people may not understand that, it's a it's going to make some people in my state mad. I'll lose as much as I'll gain by it. But I felt it was my duty to do it because we are now so close in the world, the countries are so close. If our countries are going to tell other nations that we follow democratic processes, how can we stand up 'cause it's thrown back in our teeth that right in your own capital you don't let the people vote for their representation in your Congress. And it would just be inconsistent.
JAMES G. BANKS:
They said that in 1850 too, you know, about us. Because we had slavery in the capital, and here you talk about democracy. A lot of foreign countries made that you see.
STROM THURMOND:
Well, and of course, if I'd lived back in the time of slavery I'd have done all I could to have abolished it. And my father was bitterly opposed. Of course he was born in 1862, during the war. But I've heard him say how his father abhored slavery, yet it was a custom because that was the only way he had help I guess then. But it's so hard to think about slavery. At any rate, people misunderstand unless they really know you, and know what's in your heart, and that you want to help people. But you can't do it all overnight, and then it's the method. Now I think what should have happened back in the Confederate era is the government should've; since the slaves were sold;the government should've bought 'em up and freed 'em all. Of course it never should've started to start with, but since it did I think the government should've just paid everybody for their slaves because they were personal property. And they should've paid 'em and turned 'em all loose, that's what they should have done, I think, back then.