G. Thomas Turnipseed Papers
The collection series include Public, Personal, Clippings, Vertical File Materials, and Audiovisual totaling 8 linear feet.
Public papers document Turnipseed’s term in the State Senate, 1976 to 1980. The General folder includes correspondence from constituents and from other legislators. There are extensive materials related to “The People Are Coming” rally, April 17, 1977, at the South Carolina State House. The rally took place to call for reform of the South Carolina Public Service Commission and the state legislative process. Legal documents from the 1976, 1979, and 1980 Senate reapportionment cases are also included.
Personal papers are arranged topically. Campaign materials chiefly consist of organizational and publicity material. There are congratulatory letters from Turnipseed’s 1976 State Senate win and get-well letters that poured in after he left the 1978 gubernatorial campaign for health reasons. Significant material covers Turnipseed’s association with George Wallace, including his 1968 presidential campaign and the beginning of his 1972 presidential run. There are also materials relating to the 1968 funeral of Lurleen B. Wallace, George’s wife and former governor of Alabama.
Clippings are arranged topically and include campaign newsletters and magazine clippings, some of which are oversized. Writings by Turnipseed are arranged chronologically. In particular, there are significant clippings about Wallace’s April 1968 trip to Texas. Also present is a file relating to George Wallace’s efforts on behalf of American Independent Party candidate William J. Davis, who lost in a March 1969 special election for Tennessee’s 8th Congressional district to Democrat Ed Jones.
Books are arranged alphabetically by author or title. Included is the 1978 South Carolina Legislative Manual, a Land of Oz souvenir book, and several books in which Turnipseed has been quoted or mentioned.
Vertical File Materials contain information gathered by SCPC relating to Turnipseed and may duplicate information already present in the collection.
Audiovisual materials are arranged by medium, while photographs are arranged by subject. The DVD “Our Living Legacy” documents the Turnipseeds’ work with the homeless in Columbia. An audiocassette of the National Public Radio show Weekend Edition on April 22, 2000, features an interview with Turnipseed about George Wallace. A transcript of the show accompanies the audiocassette. There are also cassette tape recordings of The Seed Show for portions of 1995, 1997, and 2004, as well as CDs for portions of 2004 and 2008. Ten VHS tapes feature WIS-TV The Seed Show. Two records include “The Hard Hat Song,” based on George Wallace’s speech “A Second Call to Freedom,” and “Dollar Gas, Kiss My Trash,” a song written and recorded by Turnipseed with Leo and Woody Windham.
Conditions Governing Use
Library Use only. Copyright of the G. Thomas Turnipssed Papers has been transferred to the University of South Carolina.
8 Linear feet
Biographical / Historical
“If I can change, anyone can change.”
~ Tom Turnipseed, 1997
The story of Tom Turnipseed’s life is a journey from willful ignorance to self-realization and a true change of heart. Turnipseed went from being the executive director of George Wallace’s 1968 Presidential campaign to successfully suing the Ku Klux Klan for damages to a church in South Carolina thirty years later. As a child, he was taught to revere the Old South and the Ku Klux Klan, of which his grandfather was a member. This environment molded him to be complacent with the status quo like many in the Deep South.
On August 27, 1936, George Thomas Turnipseed was born in Mobile, Alabama, to George and Ruby Turnipseed. Turnipseed attended the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, for both his undergraduate and law degrees. Here he met his wife Judith. The couple was married in 1963 and went on to have two children, Jefferson Davis Turnipseed and Jennifer Belle Turnipseed (now Mathis). In 1965, Turnipseed became the Executive Director of the South Carolina Independent School Association, where he was instrumental in finding the legal loopholes to create white-only private schools in the post Brown vs. Board era. While in this position he met Jack Wallace, brother of Alabama Governor George Wallace, who convinced Turnipseed to work for his brother. In 1967, Turnipseed and his wife began to work for Governor Wallace’s 1968 Presidential campaign. Turnipseed was soon made the Executive Director of the campaign and managed a political feat that has not been duplicated since. He was able to get a third-party candidate on the ballot in all fifty states.
Wallace carried five states in his bid for the Presidency. After the campaign, Turnipseed remained on Wallace’s staff but also began to practice law in Columbia, South Carolina. In 1971, Turnipseed stepped down as National Campaign Director to focus on his family and law practice, even though Wallace was again running in the 1972 election. An assassination attempt on May 5, 1972 left Wallace paralyzed, effectively ending his campaign. After this incident, Turnipseed officially resigned from Wallace’s personal staff.
Then a change began to occur; Turnipseed has been quoted as saying “I persecuted liberals so long that all of a sudden I am one.” The next year he was speaking at the South Carolina NAACP convention on economic issues, in particular electric utility rates, an issue Turnipseed would use as a platform when he ran successfully for the South Carolina State Senate in 1976.
Turnipseed campaigned for a number of offices over the years, chiefly to bring attention to a variety of issues. He ran for Attorney General in 1974 against Daniel McLeod and again in 1998 against Charlie Condon. In 1976, he defeated incumbent state senator A.J. Dooley; then in 1978, ran for Governor, a campaign he truncated due to health issues. In 1980, he was the Democratic nominee opposing incumbent Congressman Floyd Spence. During this campaign, Lee Atwater launched a vicious smear campaign attacking Turnipseed’s past mental health issues. In 1982, Turnipseed ran for Lt. Governor against Michael Daniel.
While his electoral endeavors were not always successful, Turnipseed was active in various social issues including homelessness and racial equality, saying “If I don’t do another thing in my life I’m going to work for racial justice.” In 1998, Turnipseed was co-counsel on the case the Macedonia Baptist Church brought against the Ku Klux Klan for burning their church. The church was awarded thirty-seven million dollars for damages. In later years, Tom and Judy Turnipseed focused on the homeless and were involved with Homeless Helping Homeless, Food Not Bombs, the Center for Democratic Renewal (formerly known as the National Anti-Klan Network), the South Carolina Taxpayers Association, the South Carolina Trial Lawyers Association, and the Executive Council and Executive Committee of the South Carolina Democratic Party.
Turnipseed reached out using his radio and television program The Seed Show, where he interviewed politicians, activists, community leaders and others. It took many forms and fostered discussion of important and divisive issues from its inception in 1994. Turnipseed was also a prolific writer of political pieces which were published in The Atlanta Constitution, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Charlotte Observer, and others, including local South Carolina newspapers.
Until he passed away in 2020, Tom Turnipseed continued to practice law in Columbia and with his wife Judy continued to champion social causes — “We must understand the strength of our diversity and the worth and dignity of people everywhere and work harder for peace and justice in the democratic process.”
South Carolina Political Collections, Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library, University of South Carolina. 1322 Greene St., Columbia, SC 29208
Donated by the Honorable Tom and Mrs. Judith Turnipseed
2015, by Erin Patterson; 2017, by Mary Clare Johnson; 2019 by Ann Abney
Part of the South Carolina Political Collections Repository
Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library
1322 Greene St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA
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