And He Talked
Segregation fueled a filibuster record
At six minutes before 9 p.m. on Aug. 28, 1957, the 54-year-old junior senator from South Carolina rose to the floor of the Senate to address his colleagues regarding the Civil Rights Act, which he vigorously opposed. Twenty-four hours and 18 minutes later, Strom Thurmond returned to his seat, having set the Senate's record for the longest filibuster in the history of the body.
As any good civics student knows, the Senate allows unlimited debate on any subject, meaning that lawmakers who ardently oppose a bill can impose a one-man roadblock simply by refusing to shut up. The filibuster can be ended with a "cloture vote," which in 1957 required a two-thirds margin to pass. That margin has since been lowered to 60 percent.
Lozenges. To prepare for his marathon oratory, Thurmond, a former governor of South Carolina with a strong segregationist record, took a steam bath to drain himself of excess fluidsbathroom breaks are not allowedand armed himself with malted milk tablets and throat lozenges for sustenance.
"The Senator spoke softly and slowly, his words barely audible in the galleries," reported theNew York Times, having gone to press at 3 a.m. when Thurmond was still going strong.
Thurmond cast the bill, which made it easier for blacks to vote, as a case of an overreaching federal government infringing on states' rights. The Times noted that Thurmond avoided explicitly racist language in his soliloquy, instead reciting the canon of state voting laws and reading through a bevy of historical documents.
Most historians have been less charitable to the senator, who died in 2003. He was largely unrepentant about his opposition to integration, they note, and he harbored racist tendencies throughout much of his nearly 50 years in Congress.
Hours after Thurmond's protest ended, the bill was approved. His filibuster record stands.