Strom Thurmond Announces Retirement Plans

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:24 PM EDT

( - The oldest and longest serving member of the United States Senate has announced he will retire at the end of his term in 2004 - when he'll be 101 years old.

Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC), age 96, says he's looking forward to retirement when his term expires in 2004. "I would be 101 when my current term is up, and even if I was able to carry on, people would not understand if I ran again, " Thurmond said on Capitol Hill.

Thurmond is presently the Senate's president pro tem, meaning he is third in the line of succession to the presidency. He still opens the Senate's session each day with the chaplain's prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Thurmond was born in Edgefield, South Carolina on December 5, 1902. He was a high school teacher before deciding on a career in politics. His first political office was that of governor of South Carolina, an office he assumed as a Democrat. He ran for president in 1948 as leader of the Dixiecrats, a move that split the vote, helping President Harry Truman win the presidency in his own right.

In 1954, Thurmond was elected to the Senate as a write-in candidate. He switched from the Democrat to the Republican Party in 1964 when he announced he was supporting his then Senate colleague, Barry Goldwater for the Republican nomination. Goldwater lost the election to Lyndon Johnson.

During the first of his eight terms in the Senate, Thurmond was notorious for battling civil rights legislation. He still holds the Senate's filibuster record of 24 hours and 18 minutes, without taking a bathroom break. The filibuster was against a civil rights bill.

Later, Thurmond became more pragmatic. He was the first senator to hire a black staffer, and he sponsored legislation making Martin Luther King's birthday a federal holiday.

Thurmond served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee for many years. He pushed through major anti-crime bills and presided over confirmation hearings involving 400 judges.

On his longevity in the Senate, Thurmond once joked, "I'm for term limits, but they keep re-electing me."

Thurmond has said he would not erase any part of his legacy, even though he could have chosen a different path. " I could always have made money, I could have been a millionaire. But my goal was to serve the people as best I could," Thurmond said.