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Post Column: 24-hour filibuster longest in history

The day was August 28, 1957. Following the passage of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, whites in the South had begun to violently rise up and commit heinous acts against African Americans, assaults and including church bombings.

The civil rights issue became a dividing factor not only within the American people, but also within Congress. It appeared that the civil rights issue was going away and reached an apex in 1955, when Emmett Till was brutally murdered by a group of whites in Mississippi. This elevated the civil rights issue further and something had to be done about the problem that had been causing terrible violence amongst the civilian population.

In 1957, a civil rights bill was set to be voted on, which set out to give all Americans, regardless of color the right to vote. This caused a huge problem within Congress and Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, an adamant defender of segregation, set out on a mission to stop it.

He planned to filibuster the bill, which is where debate on the bill is extended by a member of Congress taking the floor and speaking until the point where it can no longer be voted on. When he set out on his crusade to stop the bill, it did not seem clear how long he would be able to talk to sustain this filibuster.

In the true nature of a filibuster the person speaking can talk about whatever they desire, and Thurmond did just that. He began reading the state’s election laws in alphabetical order. He went on to read the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and George Washington’s Farewell Address. His use of such important documents in United States history really shows he believed his cause was just and necessary for the United States. Beds were even brought in for the senators because no one could stop him from filibustering.

In total, his filibuster of the bill lasted 24 hours and 18 minutes, the longest in history in the Senate, a feat that no one else has accomplished to this day.

Although he tried to prevent such a controversial bill from passing, it still passed in the House with a vote of 285 to 126 and also in the Senate 72 to 18.

President Eisenhower signed the bill into law on September 9, 1957. This passage of the bill shows the willingness of national leaders, in some degree, to support the Civil Rights movement, which had been causing turmoil in the United States since the end of the Second World War.

Matt Bair is a junior studying history, political science and classics. If you were to filibuster what would you read? Email him at

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