Tom Turnipseed

Last updated
Tom Turnipseed
Tom Turnipseed.jpg
Member of the South Carolina Senate
from the 8th district
In office
Personal details
George Thomas Turnipseed

(1936-08-27)August 27, 1936
Mobile, Alabama, U.S.
DiedMarch 6, 2020(2020-03-06) (aged 83)
Columbia, South Carolina, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Judith Davis
(m. 1963)
Children2 [1]
Residence Columbia, South Carolina
Alma mater University of North Carolina
University of North Carolina School of Law
Occupation Attorney

George Thomas Turnipseed (August 27, 1936 – March 6, 2020) was an attorney and Democratic member of the South Carolina State Senate known for his liberal activism. Beginning in the late 1970s, he became active within the civil rights movement, which he had once opposed. He spoke and wrote extensively on civil rights and social justice.



Tom Turnipseed was born on August 27, 1936 to parents George Franklin Turnipseed and Ruby May Turnipseed, née Bell. [2] A native of Mobile, Alabama, Turnipseed received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he met his wife, Judith ("Judy"), while she was a graduate student at the institution. The couple wed in 1963 and had two children. Turnipseed died from respiratory failure in 2020. [1]

Career and political campaigns

In 1966, Turnipseed became the first executive director of the South Carolina Independent School Association, an accrediting agency set up to legitimize segregation academies. [3] He played a role in the establishment of 43 academies, which he in 1988 characterized as a "terrible damn thing -- the worst ... of all the racist things I have ever done." [4]

Turnipseed was the executive director of the George Wallace presidential campaign, 1968, when the former governor of Alabama received 13 percent of the vote against Hubert Humphrey and Richard M. Nixon. After the American Independent Party campaign, Turnipseed, like Wallace, returned to the Democratic Party. Turnipseed soon embraced the party's liberal majority wing and joined the interest group, Americans for Democratic Action, founded in 1947 by, among others, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Reuther, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Eleanor Roosevelt. [5]

Turnipseed was elected to the South Carolina Senate, serving from 1976 to 1980. That year he was the Democratic nominee for South Carolina's 2nd congressional district. He was defeated by the incumbent Republican Floyd D. Spence, a former Democrat and lawyer from Columbia who benefited from the Ronald W. Reagan presidential campaign that year. In the Spence-Turnipseed race, Republican strategist Lee Atwater planted questions with reporters about Turnipseed's treatment as a teenager for depression, and repeatedly stated that he was "hooked up to jumper cables". Turnipseed had discussed his electroshock treatments in media interviews prior to the race, but the issue soon received much wider publicity due to Atwater's efforts and ultimately doomed his re-election bid. [6] A decade later, as Atwater was battling a late stage cancer that eventually claimed his life, he wrote to Turnipseed to ask for forgiveness for his actions; Turnipseed accepted his apology and later attended his funeral. [7]

In 1982, Turnipseed lost a Democratic runoff election for Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina to Michael R. Daniel. Frye Gaillard of the Charlotte Observer described him as "angry and shrill, and even some of the people who agreed with him finally wished he'd go away. He tried to change his style for [this] campaign, but it was apparently too late. That's a shame, however, because politics can do with a little more passion. And particularly so when that sense of being right comes, as Turnipseed's did, from a deeply felt knowledge of what it means to be wrong." [8]

In 1998, Turnipseed ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for Attorney General of South Carolina. Though he won twenty-six counties and finished with more than 46 percent of the vote, Turnipseed was defeated by the incumbent Republican Charlie Condon. However, the Republican governor, David Beasley, was unseated that year, and the GOP failed in its last attempt to unseat U.S. Senator Fritz Hollings. [5]


Turnipseed was the president of the South Carolina Trial Lawyers Association. He was the former board chairman of the interest group, the Center for Democratic Renewal, formerly known as the National Anti-Klan Network, based in Atlanta. Turnipseed was the co-counsel for the Macedonia Baptist Church in Clarendon County, South Carolina. [9] The church accused the Ku Klux Klan in the 1997 burning of its sanctuary and filed a civil suit against them for damages. In 1998, the African-American congregation won a $37 million jury verdict against the Klan. [9] In 1998, Turnipseed received the Unitarian Universalist Association's highest honor, the Holmes Weatherly Award for the pursuit of social justice. [10]

Of Anglo descent, Turnipseed was a board member of the South Carolina Hispanic Leadership Council, a statewide, non-profit organization founded to inform, advocate for, and educate, both the Hispanic community and the population at large, on issues affecting Hispanics. [11]

Turnipseed had also been active in the environmental movement in South Carolina. He was the founding chairman of the Citizens' Local Environmental Action Network (CLEAN), a statewide umbrella and informational clearing house for local citizens' groups concerned with toxic waste dumps in their areas. Turnipseed argues that "environmental racism and classism" lead to toxic waste sites being located disproportionately in minority and poorer communities. He has argued that toxic wastes constantly migrate through the air, water, and soil and eventually threaten all persons.

Media host and author

Turnipseed hosted radio shows on WCAY, WCTG, WCEO, and WOIC. He also hosted a television show on WIS TV. In both formats, his programs provided a forum for discussing diverse issues. He hosted community leaders, national and local leaders in politics and public affairs, sports, and arts, and entertainment. The Seed Show broad/web casted live on WOIC, 1230AM (Air America) and every weekday from 8 to 9 a.m.

He spoke and wrote about political and human rights, traveling throughout the country. His articles and opinion pieces were published in The New York Times , The Washington Post , The Atlanta Journal-Constitution , the Minneapolis Star-Tribune , The Charlotte Observer, CounterPunch , The State, and other newspapers.

Turnipseed's essays were featured in several books, including Cast A Cold Eye and America's Opinion Writers. His essay, "Renewing The Spirit Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: King Day at the Dome 2003", was featured in the third edition of Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, a college textbook by Sharon Crawley and Debra Hawhee, published in 2004 by Pearson/Longman.

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  1. 1 2 3 Genzlinger, Neil (March 13, 2020). "Tom Turnipseed, a 'Reformed Racist' After Backing Wallace, Dies at 83". The New York Times. Retrieved March 15, 2020.
  2. "Ruby Mae Bell Turnipseed". Find a Grave. 2019. Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  3. Tom Turnipseed (January 18, 2009). "King Day at the Dome: Cotton is King no more". The State. I was the first executive director of the S.C. Independent School Association, formed in 1965 by seven private schools that wanted to share resources, establish more private schools and avoid public-school desegregation. My job was to help local groups of white parents organize private schools so their children would not attend schools desegregated by federal courts. I was a grassroots organizer and helped establish 30 private, segregated academies from 1965 to 1967, mostly in the area now known as the Corridor of Shame.(subscription required)
  4. Carter, Dan T. (1995). The politics of rage : George Wallace, the origins of the new conservatism, and the transformation of American politics. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 301. ISBN   0-684-80916-8. OCLC   32739924.
  5. 1 2 "Tom Turnipseed". Retrieved March 12, 2012.
  6. Ben Johnson, "Forced abortions and other South Carolina dirty tricks", The Daily Beast, 21 January 2012, accessed 9 May 2015
  7. What Lee Atwater learned and the lesson for his protégés. Washington Post 16 April 1991, Page A19
  8. "Laments on the Demise of Tom Turnipseed". Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  9. 1 2 Johnson, Sandra E. (2005). Standing on holy ground : a triumph over hate crime in the deep South. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press. pp. 297, 299–300. ISBN   1570036136. OCLC   58546225.
  10. "Holmes-Weatherly Award Recipients". 2013-06-05. Retrieved 2019-04-25.
  11. "On Redemption and Change: How One Man's Story Inspires the Battle to Change Minds and Hearts". Daily Kos. Retrieved 2020-08-11.