AIKEN - After Strom Thurmond earned his college degree, he saw the inside of a classroom again, this time as a coach and a teacher.
It was through the field of education that he would experience the thrill of being elected to a public office, the first of many offices he would hold.
As an adult, he also would experience firsthand the horrors of war and know the love of his first wife.
Edgefield Mayor Bob McKie, 70, remembers those years. He grew up about 500 yards from the Thurmond home, which has since been torn down. A church now sits on the property.
Mr. McKie said much of Mr. Thurmond's call to serve came from the principles instilled in him by his parents, which continued after he was grown.
Neighbors who farmed could count on his father, who also farmed, for seed and other assistance during bad years. Likewise, his mother believed a Thurmond should always be prepared to give.
Strom Thurmond during his military service.
"Strom had two beautiful horses," Mr. McKie recalled. "If he had a nickel or penny in his pocket, he would stop the horse and let us ride. If he didn't have any change to give us, he would ride on, but when he got back, Miss Gertrude would call him in the house."
Mr. McKie said all the neighbors were fond of the future statesman, although they didn't always know what to make of him.
"He used to jog through the neighborhood," Mr. McKie said. "In those days, people didn't much wear Bermuda shorts."
He said the reaction from the older women was often the same: "My God, Strom is jogging in his drawers."
As in other eras of his life, Mr. Thurmond's second 25 years were marked by success and defeat, but mostly success. He would build on his victories in local and state offices to become a player on the national political scene.
After graduating from Clemson University with a bachelor of science degree in agriculture, Mr. Thurmond taught vocational agriculture at McCormick High School for a year and then returned home to Edgefield County to take a similar position at Ridge Spring and Edgefield High School. He also took a spot on the school board.
During his time at McCormick High School, he coached basketball and football.
In 1928, Mr. Thurmond ran against the county's aging school superintendent. Ironically, Mr. Thurmond campaigned and won, in part, on his youth and the vitality he would bring to the position.
But the job had its challenges. With the onset of the Depression, just keeping the schools operating was difficult. Mr. Thurmond managed to do so by collecting money from people in the community.
One of Mr. Thurmond's biographers, Joseph Ellers, says that despite his success in education, a life dedicated exclusively to schools was not the life he had envisioned for himself.
Studying under his father, Judge J. William Thurmond, the younger Mr. Thurmond pursued his interest in law. In November 1930, he was admitted to the South Carolina Bar and joined his father's law firm, where most of his clients were rural people. He enjoyed success as an attorney, and his experience in working with the common man gave him the confidence that launched his state political career.
In 1933, after a rigorous campaign, Mr. Thurmond became Edgefield County's state senator. His platform was based on education and attacks on the "unethical" practice by which newly elected legislative officials increased their pay after reaching office.
Five years later, Mr. Thurmond resigned from the South Carolina Senate and was elected to the 11th Circuit Court judgeship. He remained on the bench until after the United States' entry into World War II in December 1941.
In 1944, as a 42-year-old lieutenant colonel with the 82nd Airborne Division, he suffered wounds at Normandy Beach on D-Day. His glider crash-landed into a small field.
With his left knee injured and his hands cut, he helped other wounded men get to a rendezvous point, gathered a reconnaissance group and crossed back over enemy lines to safety. He was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his valor.
After his 3 1/2 years of service in World War II, he decided that his next goal would be to become governor.
After another vigorous campaign, Mr. Thurmond was elected over 10 other candidates in 1947. He was sworn in by the state Supreme Court chief justice on Jan. 21.
In his inaugural speech, he talked of his plans for changes in education and the election process. He also advocated creating a state minimum wage and allowing women to serve on juries.
Once in office, he married a secretary who served him, 21-year-old Jean Crouch of Elko. Historians recall that their engagement sent disapproving whispers through the state because of her age and position in his office. But shock quickly turned to adoration for the young bride.
In 1948, Gov. Thurmond, after disagreeing with federal laws that he believed limited states' rights, formed the States' Rights Party and ran for president.
"In terms of the tone of his run for president, it was misunderstood and interpreted in many ways," Mr. Ellers said. "Unfortunately, that movement is often linked to racism and segregationists. I think if he had it to do over again, he would do it differently."
In a term of derision, critics dubbed members of the party Dixiecrats.
Mr. Thurmond pulled in 1.2 million votes, about 2 percent of the total. He carried four states: Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina.
Deciding not to run for a second term as governor, Mr. Thurmond changed gears. In his first race for the U.S. Senate, in 1950, he challenged Olin Johnston in what has been called one of the most racially charged campaigns in the state's history. Both candidates took strong segregationist stands.
Mr. Thurmond lost. After the defeat, the 48-year-old stepped down from the governorship and moved to Aiken, where he set up a law office with Charles Simons. There he would lick his political wounds and learn from his loss.
A GOVERNOR IN LOVE
The following are excerpts from a letter on the governor's letterhead dated Sept. 13, 1947. It was addressed to "My darling Jean:" and was signed, "Yours in love, J. Strom Thurmond, Governor."
"It is with a deep sense of regret that I will have to inform you that your services will be discontinued as of the last day of this month."
"Your qualities have been appreciated by all of us here in the office, and I know that you will be greatly missed, however, I must confess that I love you dearly and want you for my own. I didn't realize that a girl could attach herself so to a man and could entwine herself around his heart strings as you have done."
ABOUT THE SERIES
This week, The Augusta Chronicle revisits Sen. Strom Thurmond's life and its milestones. Coverage will conclude Friday with reports from Thursday's 100th-birthday festivities.
SUNDAY: Childhood shapes future senator
MONDAY: Early years and the call to serve
TUESDAY: From state to national prominence
WEDNESDAY: Mr. Thurmond goes to Washington
THURSDAY: Senator leaves a legacy
FRIDAY: Coverage from Edgefield and Washington
Reach Sara Bancroft or Eric Williamson at (803) 279-6895.