Racist Attempt to Stop Civil Rights Act of 1957

On August 28, 1957, United States Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina began a filibuster, or extended speech, intended to stop the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. It began at 8:54 p.m. and lasted until 9:12 p.m. the following day, for a total length of 24 hours and 18 minutes. This made the filibuster the longest single-person filibuster in U.S. Senate history, a record that still stands today.

The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was designed to federally secure and protect the right of African Americans to vote.[1] In the Senate, the bill was supported by Republicans and Democrats, though most Democrats from southern states opposed the bill.  Thurmond personally saw the bill as an attack on fellow South Carolinian John C. Calhoun, who he admired.  Newspapers had reported that the bill would likely pass without a filibuster, as a vote to send the bill back to committee had failed 66-18 and there was no indication that the opposition intended to filibuster.

An agreement between the Southern senators to not stage an organized filibuster was reached in Richard Russell‘s office 4 days prior to Thurmond’s speech. Thurmond’s filibuster, largely a surprise, was intended to stop the bill from passing.  While Thurmond alone could not have sustained the filibuster long enough to prevent a vote on the bill, there was considerable uncertainty at the time as to whether or not other senators would join. Thurmond’s departure from the senators’ agreement was criticized by party leaders including Russell and Herman Talmadge.

Senators Strom Thurmond and Joe Biden