Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003  

Bigots defend Thurmond, dis' daughter

Reaction to the confirmation that longterm segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond has a mixed-race daughter in the blogosphere has been, well, mixed. I will post a second reaction round-up if I can figure out a way to do so after my laptop leaves for the repair shop tomorrow morning. For now, let's take a look at bigots' responses.

At the Backcountry Conservative, they're saying the revelation is much ado about nothing, citing Dean Esmay as their expert.

So here's the bottom line: Thurmond probably never worried all that much about this information becoming public. If it had happened half a century ago, he could have ridden it out easily with denials that no one believed. Had it happened more recently, it could well have been a minor plus for him, depending on how he and his daughter chose to play it.

Thus, it is probably quite true that the Thurmond family knew all about it, and that protecting her was as much part of the reason for secrecy as anything else. Strom's family is probably not particularly angry with their sister, and only mildly embarassed. Thurmond probably left his daughter enough in his will to make big court battles unlikely.

Thus, I suspect that everyone involved is simply telling the truth: this information was kept secret to protect her as much as anybody, and now at her advanced age, she just wants to get it off her chest. Nobody in the Carolinas will really care.

The South's an odd place. It really is.

Esmay goes on to say: "I don't suppose this woman would resent having her father, who she apparently had a good relationship with, referred to that way, Sandra."

I must take issue with that. A good relationship? According to reports, Ms. Essie's teenaged mother had to rely on black neighbors to support the baby. Later, she sent the girl to live with relatives because she couldn't manage on her own. Thurmond did not acknowledge the child until she was well into her teens. The amounts of money he gave her over the years were small. Seems to me that she is just as deserving of a part of his estate as his white offspring. The entire relationship was based on his manipulation and dehumanization of her.

I believe what Esmay means is that such shoddy treatment is good enough for a woman 'tainted' with West African ancestry. I haven't cited his weblog because I consider him little better than a hood-wearing Klansman.

John Smith at Lincoln Plawg genuflects to Esmay and goes on to prove himself an insensitive and ignorant clod.

Meanwhile amongst the wanabee SNCC-ers, a nauseating globule of anachro-bollocks from Andrew Sullivan, with a heavy dose of psychobabble thrown in for good measure:

Fascinating also that Thurmond fought so long to maintain miscegenation laws he himself violated so early in his life. He was fighting against himself, against his own daughter, against his own country. And he was never publicly called to account. Better late then never.

My guess is that Strom in mid-miscegenate had a far better grasp of the condition of the Southern Negro under Jim Crow than Sullivan with all of his 78 years of hindsight.


Besides, what would have been the situation if you took colour right out of it: suppose the son of a wealthy Northern household in 1925 had had an affair with a white maid and got her pregnant. What. to pick a name out of the air, about an eighteen year old James Roosevelt? Would he have made an honest woman of her, and acknowledged the child (if it survived) as his own? Do we think the formidable Sara Delano Roosevelt would have clasped the maid to her bosom as a granddaughter-in-law?

More likely, she'd be sent off to see the OB-GYN on the QT!

Race, as ever, tends to cause the red mist to descend and common sense and all considerations of historical accuracy to disappear.

Have you ever? Short of a brain and heart transplant, Smith is hopeless. Still, I will answer some of his foolishness, the 'Nawthunners do it, too' evasion Southern bigots often use to evade responsibility for their actions. Thurmond's story is important because not only did he father a mixed-race child, he was a major leader of the segregationist movement. Thurmond was responsible for the stifling of millions of African-American lives and helped create the climate in which some were killed. But for his actions in the 1940s, it would not have taken until the 1960s for civil rights legislation to pass. The impregnation of, let's say, an Irish maid in Boston, would not be remotely equivalent because there is no similar history of slavery, segregation and continuing discrimination for a politician to have built his career on. This a no-brainer, in my opinion. I suppose, Smith, a Brit, might use his nationality as an excuse. But, he states this nonsense authoritatively, as if he knows what he is talking about. He doesn't.

Liz, the blogger at You birds, always cracking foxy... is not a member of the bigotry brigade, but some of her commentors are fully credentialed.

Who cares? That is no ones business but his and his family's. If Essie Mae can prove it, good! I just think it's funny that she, and her children, were okay with keeping this all a secret for so many years and then once he died and there was money to be given out---all of a sudden they feel the need to be honest and bring closure. Yeah, right! Sounds like someone wants some MONEY! And to the person above talking about the "white cracker" having a baby with a blck woman, it takes TWO. That was an ignorant remark. Think before you speak next time! Thr truth always comes to light.

Posted by: Stephanie at December 14, 2003 10:43 AM

I have had the pleasure of having met the late senator... he was above all else a grat gentleman especially in the presence of a female. We all need to remember that in the south (as well as in many other places) it was not unusual for a young man and woman to "become a couple", in whatever sense, at a very early age. By offering financial support and by moving Ms Essie to SC State University Senator Thurmond did more to benifit this woman than the majority of men would have done 50 years ago or would do today. He should be remembered by private citizens for his dedication to our nation - nothing more - nothing less. Each of us have skeletons and most of us are of mixed race if you trace back far enough.

Posted by: Sue at December 14, 2003 01:33 PM

Yes, Yes...weird that they would wait until now that money is being handed out to bring all this to the light. everyone has said...MONEY (DNA) talks, bullsh*t walks.

Let us not focus on this people...they found Saddam!!!

Posted by: Juston at December 14, 2003 04:39 PM

Commentary at neo-Confederate forums follows a similar pattern. At first, there was a lot of denial. Then, after the Thurmonds acknowledged Ms. Essie, there was blame-shifting. It somehow became her or her mother's fault, not Thurmond's, that she was born. Close behind are claims the 78-year-old woman, who says that telling the truth made her feel free, is a gold-digger.

posted by J. | 7:21 PM

Tuesday, December 16, 2003  

Thurmond left legacy of hypocrisy

The family of former Sen. Strom Thurmond has claimed the mixed-race daughter he denied having for at least four decades.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 - The family of the late Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina acknowledged on Monday that Essie Mae Washington-Williams, a retired teacher living in Los Angeles, is the daughter of Mr. Thurmond and a black woman who worked for his family as a maid nearly 80 years ago.

"As J. Strom Thurmond has passed away and cannot speak for himself, the Thurmond family acknowledges Ms. Essie Mae Washington-Williams' claim to her heritage," a family lawyer, J. Mark Taylor, said in a brief written statement. "We hope this acknowledgment will bring closure for Ms. Williams."

Mr. Thurmond, a Democrat turned Republican who was once one of the nation's leading segregationists, died in June at the age of 100 after serving 48 years in the Senate.

For decades, he had acknowledged a friendship with Ms. Washington-Williams, 78, who was raised by an aunt and became a frequent visitor to Mr. Thurmond's Washington office. But despite rampant rumors, both the senator and Ms. Washington-Williams publicly denied their relationship.

Though Mrs. Washington-Williams' attorney, Frank Wheaton, has said she only wants to be admitted into the family, it appears she may seek a share of her father's estate. It is known that Thurmond established trust funds for his white offspring, but it is not clear whether provisions were made for his mixed-race daughter.

South Carolina law allows Williams to sue for paternity up to eight months after Thurmond’s death, which would be Feb. 26, or six months after the appointment of the personal representative to his estate, which would be April 27.

Wheaton said Williams would prefer not to sue. She would rather “respectfully approach the family in a very quiet and dignified way.”

Thurmond and Williams saw each other several times a year, Williams told The Washington Post. As governor, he visited her during her undergraduate years at S.C. State, visits remembered by her fellow students.

In later years, Williams said she would visit him in Washington, and he would see her in California. While the relationship was an oft-repeated legend in South Carolina and in political circles, Williams always denied the relationship while Thurmond was alive.

The attorney said Williams has proof of her paternity, although she is willing to submit to DNA testing to scientifically establish her relationship to Thurmond.

Williams has a note written by Thurmond that proves her claim, Wheaton said. He will not say exactly what the note says or even how Williams came to possess it, other than to say it was delivered by a “person inside of the family.”

“This is part of our physical and tangible evidence that we intend to keep private,” Wheaton said.

By using the term “evidence,” Wheaton said he is not implying “there is legal action being taken,” but he also said it is “evidence of supporting documents and information and materials, if they had to be brought forth to support her claim — if there was a claim.”

South Carolina Congrressman Joe Wilson, who is aligned with the neo-Confederate movement, has a strong reaction to the revelation, though he does not acknowledge the apparent truth of it. The State printed his letter to the editor.

The State was correct that I consider the revelations concerning Senator Thurmond unseemly and “an attack after he’s dead.”

I also agree with your reporter who suggested that it was similar to the charges made against Thomas Jefferson, but it was left out that I also immediately compared it to last week’s revelations that Abraham Lincoln may have been secretly born in North Carolina. Some attacks on the dead are simply tawdry.

The onslaught of titillating rumors may sell newspapers, but I much prefer to remember the Senator Thurmond I knew to admire — the war hero of Normandy, the effective governor and the compassionate senator who is the ultimate role model of caring constituent service.

When our statesmen are dead and buried, unable to defend themselves, please let them remain interred in peace.

I utterly disagree with Wilson. Thurmond, a shameless self-promoter who was not reluctant to 'out nigger' his fellow Southern conservatives, a euphenism for exploiting racism to garner votes, manipulated his daughter, the press and his family well enough to keep his hypocritical behavior unconfirmed while he was alive. However, his death does not elevate his chicanery to some hallowed status as Wilson seems to believe. The truth is the truth. When that truth involves an important public figure, we all learn significant information about how our society works by examining it.

Black conservative Armstrong Williams, a protege of Thurmond's, also disagrees with Sons of Confederate Veteran member Wilson. He says Thurmond all but admitted to him Mrs. Washington-Williams was his daughter several times over the years.

There was a conversation that occurred at a 1996 Washington Urban League ceremony honoring myself and Sen. Thurmond for the growing bonds between black and white Americans. Back stage, Sen. Thurmond leaned over and said, “You know, I have deep roots in the black community — deep roots.”

His voice softened into a raspy whisper: “You’ve heard the rumors.”

“Are they just rumors, senator?” I asked.

“I’ve had a fulfilling life,” cackled Thurmond, winking salaciously.

The subject came up again while the senator and I were attending a S.C. State football game in Orangeburg. He mentioned how he had arranged for Williams to attend S.C. State College while he was governor. (Sen. Thurmond caused a stir when his official car rolled onto campus for a visit.)

“When a man brings a child in the world, he should take care of that child,” said Thurmond, who then added, “she’ll never say anything and neither will you — not while I’m alive.”

I wish the senator's daughter had spoken up while he was alive. If she had done so, he would not have been able to go to his grave without first confronting the immorality of the bigotry he exploited to achieve his political stature. But, considering Mrs. Washington-Williams' age, I am not surprised she chose not to rock the boat. Few African-Americans over the age of 50 have not had fear of white people instilled in them as part of their experiences growing up.

Writer Earl Ofari Hutchinson is not exactly welcoming the new member of his extended family - J. Strom Thurmond.

The skeleton that rattled in the late South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond's closet with the revelation that he may have fathered a black child also rattled for me. If Essie Mae Washington-Williams is indeed his daughter, and she claims to have documents and has offered to take DNA tests to prove it, then my two granddaughters who are her great granddaughters are Strom Thurmond's great-great granddaughters.

That raises troubling concerns for me. The girls are 8 and 2 years old, and I don't want them exposed to the public rancor and bitterness that has raged between the black and white descendants of Thomas Jefferson. But they need to know the truth about their heritage. It's well known or strongly suspected that a slew of prominent, wealthy and politically connected Southern slave masters - and that almost certainly included Jefferson - kept black mistresses, fathered black children, and even supported them.

. . .Despite much talk that Thurmond did a racial mea culpa in the latter days of his political reign, he still remained a die-hard conservative. His voting record was pro-defense and anti-government social programs. In his final campaign for his eighth Senate term in 1996, he ranted against the "the 40-year wrongs of liberalism."

Thurmond helped ensure that the Republicans would be major players for decades to come in national politics. Bush and the Republicans owe Ol' Strom an eternal debt of gratitude. That's not the debt that my granddaughters owe their presumed great-great grandfather. However, when they're old enough to understand I'll talk candidly with them about the racially indelible political stamp that he put on the nation.

Thurmond never really repudiated his long history as a segregationist. He just stopped discussing the topic and extended his reputation for constituent services to include African-Americans in his district during the 1980s. By then, as Hutchinson observes, Thurmond's inprint on race relations in the country had become indelible.

posted by J. | 5:04 AM