James Brown and Strom Thurmond

Several early reviews of the new movie version of singer/performer James Brown’s life, which opens this week, mention his seemingly unlikely friendship with South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond.

One connection for Brown and Thurmond was their shared roots in what has been called Georgialina, described by Thurmond as “a region of the Savannah River Valley which includes a number of cities and towns on both sides of the South Carolina and Georgia state line.” Brown was born near Barnwell, SC and raised in Augusta, GA.  Thurmond was from Edgefield, SC.  Brown once wrote that his father had worked for Thurmond and that the senator knew his father’s father.

Brown and Thurmond also found common ground on some political issues and religious beliefs.   In addition, both were energized by appreciative audiences, including each other.

From the Strom Thurmond Collection (mss 100) in the Special Collections Library:

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James Brown visiting Strom Thurmond’s Senate office, 1991


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James Brown leading the singing of “Happy Birthday” at Strom Thurmond’s 90th birthday party, 1993. Other participants included four of Strom Thurmond’s children and former president Richard Nixon.


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Mutual admiration: A c 1980s signed photo from James Brown and Strom Thurmond’s 1994 Senate statement recognizing the significance of Brown’s career.