In 1953 Essie Mae Washington-Williams moved to California to start a new life with her husband and son. She flew home regularly to receive cash gifts from her father that were delivered by a relative; she also kept close tabs on her father's political activity.
In 1956 nineteen southern senators declared war on the Brown vs. Board of Education decision and called for a return of "separate but equal" status quo, stating that "the states had the right, by any lawful means, to resist integration ordered by the federal government. My father, in touting his manifesto, once again put his racist foot in his states'-rights mouth, calling the white people of the South 'the greatest minority in this nation'....Oh daddy! I despaired." [p. 170]
In early 1960 Thurmond's young wife died of a brain tumor. Soon afterwards Essie Mae cut a speech out of the paper (to prevent her husband from reading it) in which Thurmond said:
"Just as there are in this country two main and quite distinct cultures, a northern culture and a southern culture, so there are in this country two different species of genus segregation... Segregation in the South is open, honest, and aboveboard. Northern segregation is founded on hypocrisy and deceit." (p.176)
Essie Mae commented, "...My father shared [John C.] Calhoun's paternalism; he never saw it as racism, even though the rest of the country did....He called southern segregation 'human,' which was one of the worst uses of that adjective I ever heard." (p.176)
After her husband died suddenly, Essie Mae moved into View Park, an area that "was about as good as a neighborhood could get for African-Americans at the time." They had a few Asian, Mexican and white neighbors, although it was less integrated as she had seen when they had first moved to Los Angeles. (p.186)
Although her neighborhood was not as racially mixed as she preferred, in Los Angeles she experienced racial acceptance and equality. Over the following years she completed college, registered to vote, joined the NAACP, and became a guidance counselor. She taught English as a second language to students from all over Central and South America as well as Asia. "I was very flattered that so many of my students would want to come up to me after class and ask more questions." [p.187]
As I mentioned previously, I read Dear Senator on a recent trip west. One of the highlights of this trip was worshipping in a multi-cultural church in a suburb just north of Los Angeles. The congregation was a generous mix of Hispanics, Asians, and whites, as you may be able to detect in these pictures from the All Saints Reformed Presbyterian Facebook page.
Afterwards I thought of Essie Mae and her experiences living and working among people of many ethnic backgrounds. She had come a long way from the Deep South and being a young woman who had to sit in the back of the bus and had to keep her parentage secret. In visiting Los Angeles, I understood how she found a home and acceptance in a culture full of racial diversity.
But no one--not even her children--knew who her father was. In my last installment in this series, I'll share some of what led up to that revelation.
If you are interested, here are the previous blogs in this series:
Run to the Light “I cried all the time back in 2006, when we learned Taylor has infantile Batten disease. Somewhere along the way, my l...
I am honored to share the cover reveal for DRIVE, Joyce Hostetter's newest middle grade book that will be released in September by Calk...
I'm pleased to announce three writing classes beginning in March; one at the Bobby Pearse Community Center in Greenville, and two at th...