Silver Rights

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2003  

Black grandson embraces Thurmond

Strom Thurmond's elder African-American grandson, a conservative doctor who lives in the Pacific Northwest, has spoken with touchy talk show host Bill O'Reilly about his grandfather. The most interesting aspect of the conversation is that Dr. Ronald Williams defends Thurmond, while his host cuts the longterm segregationist and father of the Republicans' Southern Strategy no slack.

O'REILLY:  Well, your mother must have been -- must be -- she's still around -- an extraordinary woman.  She -- she -- you say she loved him, and yet he didn't really help black people, obviously, and he didn't really -- wasn't really overgenerous with her or you.  Another person might have said, hey, this is not a good guy.

WILLIAMS:  Well, the way our view is -- that he's provided her support, especially financial and moral support, emotional support at a time when she had no other man in her life, and she felt that was a great and important help to her, and she has acknowledged it as such.


WILLIAMS:  He apparently had some physical affection, would hug her at the beginning of a meeting, hug her when she left, and just treated her very well...


WILLIAMS:  ... and...

O'REILLY:  I got it, but I still think your mother's an extraordinary woman for doing so.  I would not...

WILLIAMS:  You're right about that.

O'REILLY:  I would -- yes, I would not have been as kind.  I wouldn't  have.

Now Strom Thurmond himself, as I said in the lead, was an ardent segregationist and, you know, arguably not a good help to the African-American community.  Did that enter into your thinking at all when you evaluate him?

WILLIAMS:  It does enter in.  One of the greatest ironies I find is that around 1964, while the Civil Rights Act was being filibustered, my brother was integrating Savannah High School.  That was quite an irony.

O'REILLY:  Yes, that's for sure.  This whole thing is ironic.


O'REILLY:  This whole -- this whole thing -- and, you know, people who don't believe in God are crazy because this just shows you, you know?  But it also shows you that Strom Thurmond was not a man of respect.  And I know that he's your grandfather and I don't want to be disrespectful to you, but he isn't.  He's a hypocrite, and that's just a fact, and I'm glad it's out in the open.

Prior to Mrs. Essie Mae Washington-Williams' famous press conference, her son had expressed hope she might not speak out since the white Thurmond family had acknowleged her paternity.

Dr. Williams is said to have benefitted from his maternal grandfather's influence in helping him get a military medical education. He is a Republican. In his 50s, the grandson is old enough to recall segregation and 'proper' behavior for Southern African-Americans.

I believe this man's perspective sheds some light on why many minority Americans are skeptical of conservatives of color. His willingness to re-tint Thurmond's limited contact with Mrs. Washington-Williams into rose-colored hues strikes me as all too typical. So does his elevation of nominal hush money to 'support' and description of Thurmond as 'the man in her life.' Minority conservatives tend to blow the slightest accommodation by white Right Wingers out of proportion.

Perhaps the Right will attempt to exploit Dr. Williams' conservatism, now that he is in the national spotlight. At least one member of the neo-Confederate movement is having that thought.

State Sen. John Courson, a Thurmond political protege and close family friend, said he initially feared the impact that last week’s news would have on Thurmond’s legacy. But he said the way the news unfolded might not alter history much -- and not entirely in a negative way.

“The way that she has handled this, with such tremendous poise and dignity, and her obvious affection for Strom Thurmond, and how the family has handled it may even enhance his legacy,” said Courson, R-Richland.

If there is an effort to use Dr. Williams, I suspect it will be a miscalculation. Though he seems not to grasp just how wrong his grandfather was, I think most of those he would try to reach do.

posted by J. | 1:56 PM