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Thurmond Deserves No Pass On Bi-Racial Daughter
3/13/2013 12:35:08 PM

By Barney Blakeney

They say you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. Most who know me think I’m an irreverent SOB so I guess this column won’t disappoint.

In the last edition of this publication an op-ed piece by Armstrong Williams was published noting that the late Essie Mae Washington-Williams was a ‘Beloved’ bi-racial daughter of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond.

I never met either Thurmond or his late daughter, so I can’t say what their relationship was like beyond what I’ve read. It seems theirs was special.

‘Outside kids’ relationships can take many different forms. I once dated a girl who told me her biological father used to hit on her as she passed his work place daily because he didn’t know who she was. By the same token, I’ve seen parents relate to outside kids in such a way those who weren’t aware of the biological differences between one set of kids and the outsider could never tell there was a difference.

And in today’s America where it’s not uncommon for siblings to have multiple parentage, it can get confusing when you start to figure out who is whose mother and who is whose father. I’m encouraged that the children usually seem to get past the differences. My half-sister is as much my sister as my twin sister.

In spite of all that, Armstrong Williams’ piece about the Washington-Williams/Thurmond relationship rubbed me a little raw. I’ve always heard a lot of good things about Strom Thurmond - as many bad things - but a lot of good things.

As a    child of the 1950s and 1960s my perception of Strom Thurmond was that of a racist white man who hated negroes. I heard or saw nothing to challenge that perception as I learned about his career in politics as a Democrat, Dixicrat and born again Republican.

I heard the stories as a teenager that Thurmond once had a daughter at South Carolina State College. Frankly, I thought the story was bullcrap. I couldn’t imagine how a man who so blatantly  professed segregation could show such care for a Black daughter.

I don’t doubt that Thurmond cared for his Black daughter. But I also don’t think that white men who hate Black people yet are more than willing to sleep with Black women should get a pass.

As I grew into adulthood I began to hear all kinds of stories about the good things Thurmond did for Black folks, especially those at South Carolina State College. Black folks in position said that if they asked, Thurmond usually responded.

All of that is cool. So Thurmond was pragmatic.

He saw that Black folks had come into some influence, and like Alabama Gov. George Wallace who stood in the door at the University of Alabama barring James Meredith’s entrance and who sicced the state troopers on marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., Thurmond became less combative in his latter years.

More important than how a man feels about me is how a man treats me, I always say. But when I look into a man’s eyes and see contempt, I know that his treatment of me depends solely on our relative positions of power. He’ll treat me no better than he has to.

Despite his acquiescence in his latter years Strom Thurmond was a man who sought to keep Black people in Jim Crow slavery. He filibustered for hours in the U.S. Senate against integration. He literally was dragged kicking and screaming into the equal rights era.

And through all that, this man refused to publicly acknowledge his bi-racial daughter. Essie Mae Washington-Williams’ mother was a teenage maid in Thurmond’s house when he committed what today would be statutory rape to conceive his daughter. I often wonder how willing a participant that young Black girl was in the child’s conception.

I once saw a movie about a similar situation where the white man of the house routinely had sexual relations with his Black housekeeper.

Because the woman needed the job and because that kind of stuff was acceptable, she had no choice but to go to work, and if Mr. Charlie wanted to relieve himself at some point during the day, she was obliged to accommodate him. I’m thinking Essie Mae’s mother might have been in that same situation.

No Armstrong, I don’t see anything honorable about Thurmond’s relationship with his daughter. That everyone involved was told to keep the relationship unconfirmed tells you it was less than honorable.

So forgive me if I don’t give Thurmond a pass on taking care of his business in an unconfessed parentage situation. No I can’t speak well of someone who publicly denies the fruit of his loins and sought to subjugate those of her race.

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