Monday, February 27, 2012

How Strom Thurmond Influenced Me

Ol' Strom
I know what you're thinking! How could a dead segregationist governor influence some black woman? Well, let me explain.

About four years ago I read Dear Senator, a memoir by Essie Mae Washington-Williams.  Ms. Williams is the African American love child of the South Carolina Senator (and former Governor) and his family's African American maid, Carrie Washington.

My mother is from South Carolina, so all my life I've had ties to the South, and for many years I've known about this "secret child." My mother even knew someone who went to college with her.  So when I'd heard that Ms. Williams had "come out" and written a memoir, I couldn't wait to read it!

The story of Ms. Williams's mother and her relationship with Thurmond was heartbreaking and touching, as well as fascinating.  I couldn't stop reading.  And after I'd finished, I couldn't get the story out of my head.

I kept thinking, what would have happened if Ms. Williams had been born a boy who grew up to become a Civil Rights leader at the same time his father was a segregationist governor.  And another thought was, what if Thurmond, a young law student at the time, had been willing to give up everything to be Carrie Washington?

If you're familiar with my blog, you know that Dear Senator inspired my novel The Governor's Sons.  Ms. Williams's memoir, however, is quite sad.  Her mother was all of sixteen when she became pregnant by the then twenty three year old Thurmond.

Thurmond did care for Carrie, but not to the point of giving up everything for her, and their affair lasted over several years, off and on.  But when she died, Thurmond didn't know until Essie told him.

Thurmond provided financially for his love child and stayed in contact with her all of his life.  Ms. Williams still maintains contact with his family--which is her family too!  I couldn't help but feel for both of them (Essie Mae and Strom) as I read her story.

Thurmond wanted to do the right thing by providing for his daughter and being a presence in her life. But if the truth about her had ever been discovered by the public, his career would have been destroyed.  And Ms. Williams had to settle for what little of himself her father could give her, while he shared the limelight with his wife and their children.

If you're at all interested in race matters and love stories, I highly recommend Dear Senator!

Had you ever heard of Essie Mae Washington-Williams's story before the news broke about it a few years back?

Thanks for visiting!


Old Kitty said...

I've not heard of Ms Washington-Williams story so thank you so much for the info and intro to this fascinating memoir! I would love to read this!! Poor Essie and her mum! I'm so glad it's all out in the open now! Take care

Kittie Howard said...

Great post! Rumors about Strom Thurmond's love child abounded in Louisiana. When Essie Mae's story broke, I really felt sorry for her. But not long before her story came out, I met Thurmond at a social function in D.C. 'm here to tell ya the guy was a creepy guy who made no bones about undressing a woman from head to toe. *cringes at the memory* My impression was that Thurmond was an amoral political animal who considered all cats gray in the dark. The fact that Thurmond achieved such political power doesn't say much about those who lifted him up. But, having said that, Thurmond did somewhat step up to the plate with Essie Mae -- oh, the South, the South! Since you're from SC, I think you get my drift. (Haven't read the book but will do so.)

Maria McKenzie said...

@Old Kitty: It's always good to put those things out in the open:).

@Kittie: Maybe I'd better change the title of my post;). BTW, I'm not from SC, my mom is. But I did work in the South (NC and Ga.) So I get it! One time an old man asked if I wanted to quit my job as a librarian and become a domestic for him. He said, "I can pay you a lot more than you make here." I politely declined--I didn't get a Master's Degree to be a maid! Then he asked if another black girl would be interested. She worked part time and was in law school. I assured him she wouldn't be interested either! That was back in the '80s, but I'm sure that mindset is still alive and well in some!

I saw Thurmond at the Chitlin Strut in SC one year riding a float. Sounds like you got to meet him up close and personal! From what I've read about him, besides Essie Mae's book, he was a big time womanizer!

Intangible Hearts said...

NO, not before the news broke the story. Fascinating stuff Maria but though Dear Senator sounds full of love, it also sounds very sad. I'm so glad the world is learning to accept the fact that romance and love are deeper than our physical characteristics.

Jennette Marie Powell said...

This must've come out when I was not reading the news, because I hadn't heard it! Essie's story sounds like a fascinating one - and one thatwill really give the reader food for thought, like The Governor's Sons - which I'm reading now and really enjoying!

Maria McKenzie said...

@Desert Rocks: I'm with you! Love is more than skin deep:).

@Jennette: There really was lots of food for thought in Dear Senator! And thanks for reading my novel!

William Kendall said...

I hadn't heard of it, no. It's one thing for him to have stood up and at least provided for his daughter financially, but much of what I've heard of the man makes me think vulture.

Maria McKenzie said...

I know! Sad but true:(.