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Add Hypocrite To His Legacy

by Ellis Henican Friday, Dec. 19, 2003 at 1:52 AM

"All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negroes into our homes, our schools, our churches" -- Strom Thurmond, 1948

Separate water fountains, same bed.

It'll be known, from this week forward, as the Strom Thurmond Theory of Racial Integration.

"Jim Crow" when the sun shines, "We Shall Overcome" at night.

Yes, sir, we always knew ol' Strom was a virulent segregationist, railing against racial mixing in the bad ol' days of the South. But now, from his own 78-year-old biracial daughter, we learn something else: When the lights went out, he was all for black and white together.

"All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negroes into our homes, our schools, our churches," Strom thundered when he ran for president in 1948.

Well, OK. Maybe our homes.

Instead of wearing sheets, the future senator from South Carolina was climbing between them - with the 16-year-old Thurmond family maid.

The year was 1925. Her name was Carrie Butler. Of course, she was black. The Thurmonds had a lovely home in Edgefield, S.C., and she helped to clean it.

But that wasn't all she did. Under circumstances that still remain murky, she also provided some personal companionship to the Thurmonds' 22-year-old son Strom, becoming pregnant by him.

Rumors have circulated for decades about a biracial Thurmond love child. But Essie Mae Washington-Williams, now a retired teacher living in Los Angeles, ducked most inquiries about her segregationist father. She denied those she couldn't duck.

But this past weekend, she spoke openly for the first time.

"I did not want anybody to know I had an illegitimate father," she told Marilyn Thompson of The Washington Post, who had co-written a Thurmond biography. "My children convinced me to tell the truth. I want to finally answer all of these questions ... that have been following me for 50 or 60 years."

She had nothing bad to say about Thurmond. She'd been introduced to him, she said, when she was 16 years old. He'd paid quiet visits when she was a student at South Carolina State University. He'd sent money over the years.

But until the day he died, the segregationist senator never acknowledged his daughter to the world. And he didn't mention her in his will.

Private gestures were fine, it seemed. But across a long career as an arch-segregationist - and then, later, as a supposedly reformed arch-segregationist - he never once found occasion to declare this explosive fact: He'd fathered a child with a black woman.

So along with open racist, famous flirt and holder of the filibuster record in the U.S. Senate (24 hours and 18 minutes against a bill to ban housing discrimination), another line must be added to the lengthy Thurmond resume, six months after his death:

Lifelong hypocrite.

So, what to make of this now?

The motivation of the long-silent daughter seems to be no more complicated than she makes it out to be. Letting the world know, after her father has died, that she exists. Her lawyer says she isn't interested in money from the family. She won't contest the will.

And the other Thurmonds are reacting not with open hostility or open warmth, but with a kind of reserved acceptance.

"We have no reason to believe Ms. Williams was not telling the truth," Strom Thurmond Jr., the U.S. attorney for South Carolina, told his local paper. "Everyone has a right to know their heritage."

Maybe some actual closeness will blossom now that the truth is out, but I wouldn't count on it.

In the final years of his life, Strom Thurmond liked to describe himself a changed man. He'd come to accept his black neighbors, he said, as other white southerners had. He did his best, he explained, to look out for their interests in Washington. Abandoning his harshest rhetoric from the past, he even voted in favor of a federal holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.

And yet, despite the public conversion, he let this potent teaching moment pass. He buried the ultimate integration story - his own.

When asked about the rumors, he brushed them aside as too unseemly for comment.

Sending checks each year, being just nice enough, he hid his daughter's existence. Even in death, he chose not to treat her as his own.

Essie Mae Washington-Williams is obviously a very gracious woman. She could have caused her father enormous grief and chose not to. She played along with his duplicity - separate water fountains, single bed. She spoke only kindly of him.

The first time she met her father, her mother was dying and she was 16.

"A very lovely daughter," Strom said of the girl.

He was right about that.

Too bad he was never man enough to give her the father she deserved. Too bad he could never bring himself to share his daughter with the world.
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OneEyedMan KPC Saturday, Dec. 20, 2003 at 12:47 AM
fresca fresca Sunday, Dec. 21, 2003 at 6:10 AM
OneEyedMan KPC Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2003 at 10:47 PM
fresca fresca Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2003 at 11:39 PM
Democrats are all scumbags KPC Adult Supervisor Thursday, Jan. 01, 2004 at 12:42 AM

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