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Progressive Activist and Longtime Common Dreams Contributor Tom Turnipseed Dead at 83

A self-identified "reformed racist' who spent decades fighting for progressive causes has died.

Carolina Peace Resource Center member Tom Turnipseed works on a sign to take to Washington, D.C. for an anti-war protest in this file photo. Turnipseed died Friday at the age of 83. (Photo: C. Aluka Berry)

Carolina Peace Resource Center member Tom Turnipseed works on a sign to take to Washington, D.C. for an anti-war protest in this file photo. Turnipseed died Friday at the age of 83. (Photo: C. Aluka Berry)

Lawmaker, political campaigner, progressive activist, and longtime Common Dreams contributor Tom Turnipseed (August 27, 1936 – March 6, 2020) died on Friday at the age of 83.

A man who considered himself a "reformed racist" who once managed the presidential campaign of the infamous segregationist and racist Alabama Gov. George Wallace, Turnipseed later—"disturbed by the visceral racial hatred he saw while on the campaign trail"—recanted his bigoted ideologies and spent the remainder of his life speaking out against hatred and fighting on behalf of progressive causes.

"He was at peace and without pain, for which I am grateful," Judy Turnipseed, Tom's wife, wrote in a Facebook post in which she announced his passing. "Tom Turnipseed was my best friend, my lover, my hero for 57 years. He made me happy and sometimes he made me cry. But always he made me proud." 

Tom, his wife continued, "fought for racial, social and economic justice. He set an example for us, his wife and kids, that was hard to live up to. In his honor, I will try to carry on his legacy. Tom, I will forever miss you."

In a 2010 column for Common Dreams, Turnispeed lamented the reality in which the United States had become a place where hunger and homelessness were rampant while the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. He wrote:

The U.S. defense budget is $720 billion, which includes the Pentagon base budget, Department of Energy nuclear weapons activities and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We far outstrip the rest of the world in defense spending, surpassing the next closest country by more than eight times.  The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reports that the U.S. military budget accounts for 43% of the world's total military spending.  

If we heed the words of Eisenhower and stop the madness we call war, if we require the wealthiest to pay their fair share, then perhaps we can end hunger and homelessness in America. There will be food, not bombs, and we will no longer destroy the hopes of our children.

Turnipseed, the Post & Courier reports,

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was a South Carolina senator from 1976 to 1980, and ran for a number of other offices through the years, including the U.S. House, governor and lieutenant governor. He ran as a Democrat for SC attorney general in 1998, garnering 46 percent of the vote statewide in a race against Republican Charlie Condon. 

On Saturday morning, third-term Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin lamented Turnipseed's passing. 

"There is and will only ever be one Tom Turnipseed," Benjamin says. "Tom led one of the most colorful lives in South Carolina political history and left this world with an indelible mark as a fighter for social justice, as an advocate for the homeless, a proponent of peace, and as a true believe in environmental justice."

According to The State:

During his gubernatorial and congressional runs, he went door to door giving out turnip seed packets that asked for people's votes, saying he would "plant the seed of good government."

He campaigned against the death penalty, rising utility prices and redistricting plans that he believed would exclude black voters in South Carolina. 

A 1982 article described Turnipseed as "dapper and charming, outrageous and impolite ... affronting his legislative colleagues by, among other things, appearing with a couple of disc jockey buddies on the floor of the Senate and singing country songs about rising gas prices."

"Tom Turnipseed was a force of nature and had a hell of a life experience," current South Carolina Democrat Party Chairman Trav Robertson said on social media. "He was the first of what is now called a progressive."

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