Samuel J. Ervin, Jr., of North Carolina, considered by his colleagues to be one of the Senate's foremost constitutional experts, was first appointed to a Senate seat in 1954 and subsequently won election to three full terms. Ervin had a folksy manner, quoted Shakespeare and the Bible, and often referred to himself as "just an ol' country lawyer.” His colleagues knew, however, that the Harvard-educated lawyer was much more. Barely two months after Ervin was sworn into office, Minority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to serve on the Select Committee to Study Censure Charges against Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy, which ultimately recommended that a censure resolution be adopted. A lifelong opponent of civil rights legislation and a member of the Senate’s Southern Caucus, Ervin was a contributing author of the Southern Manifesto of 1956 that called for grassroots resistance to court-ordered school desegregation. In the 1960s and ’70s, as he continued to oppose civil rights for African Americans, Ervin investigated privacy issues, authored the Privacy Act of 1974, and emerged as a prominent defender of civil liberties. When news of the Watergate scandal broke in 1973, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield chose Ervin to chair the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, known as the Watergate Committee. Millions of Americans watched the televised hearings, and Chairman Sam Ervin became a kind of folk hero. The House Judiciary Committee used information uncovered by the Senate Watergate Committee to draft articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon, who resigned on August 9, 1974. Ervin retired from the Senate in December 1974, returning to his hometown of Morganton, North Carolina.
Kenneth Keating of New York entered politics in 1946, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. As ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, he was influential in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Moving to the Senate in 1959, the liberal Republican continued to champion civil rights, working with a bipartisan coalition that broke a filibuster to ensure passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Keating also promoted immigration reform and health care for the aged. In 1960 he introduced the Twenty-Third Amendment to the Constitution, allowing residents of the District of Columbia to vote in presidential elections. The New York senator is perhaps best remembered for his persistent warnings of a Russian military buildup and construction of missile sites in Cuba--a crisis that climaxed as the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962--and his criticism of the Kennedy administration’s management of that crisis. Keating ran for a second Senate term in 1964, but was defeated by Robert Kennedy.
On September 24, 1969, in a closed-door caucus, Senate Republicans narrowly elected Senator Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania over Senator Howard Baker, Jr., of Tennessee to be the new Republican minority leader. Scott had served as the Republican whip for less than a year when the death of Illinois senator Everett Dirksen left the party's leadership position vacant. Elected to the Senate in 1958, Scott served three terms before retiring in 1977. He served as Republican leader for eight years. According to William F. Hildenbrand, Scott's long-time assistant in the Senate, the senator "was a consummate politician." In 1981 a room in the Capitol was designated as the “Hugh Scott Room,” and in 1989, when Senate leaders were establishing a special 15-member Study Group on the Commemoration of the Senate Bicentenary, Scott was selected to chair this panel.
James Strom Thurmond served as a city and county attorney before being elected to the South Carolina state senate in 1932. Following military duty in the Pacific and European theaters during World War II, where he participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and earned a Purple Heart, Thurmond served as governor of South Carolina from 1947 to 1951. He ran as the States’ Rights Democratic (also known as Dixiecrat) candidate for president in 1948, calling for continued racial segregation and opposing federal civil rights laws. In 1954 Thurmond won election to the Senate as a write-in candidate, but he pledged to resign in 1956 to allow for a full election process. Carrying out that pledge, Thurmond was again elected in 1956. He took the oath of office again on November 7, 1956, and continued to serve until his retirement on January 3, 2003. In 1956 Thurmond joined 18 other southern senators in signing the Southern Manifesto, a statement that called for resistance to desegregation in public education in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decisions. In September of 1964, Thurmond joined the Republican Party. He chaired the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees and was elected president pro tempore. He turned 100 years old in 2002, the only senator to reach that milestone while still in office. He also holds the Senate's record for the longest individual speech, his filibuster against the 1957 Civil Rights Act, which lasted for 24 hours and 18 minutes.