Thursday, June 6, 2013

Multi-Racial Read #13: Dear Senator- Part IV

When Strom Thurmond assumed the gubernatorial office in January 1947, Essie Mae was one of a select group of students from South Carolina State University who attended. As she looked at the family who surround him she thought,

I wanted to be up there on the podium with them. This was my family, but I didn't know them and they didn't know me. In time, in time, I prayed to myself. If my father could change this state, with its Confederate flags flying and its Confederate soldiers standing vigil atop their obelisks, I had reason to hope he could change his own house. I flattered myself by thinking that my own existence might have something to do with his progressive stance. (p. 120)

[Note: At that time Thurmond was more sympathetic to blacks. But he changed his position in later years.]

Her father visited her at college, although the meetings were always secretive. 

His favorite question, which he asked whenever he saw me, was "How does it feel to be the daughter of the governor?" My answer was always the same: "It doesn't bother me at all." I was trying to joke with him, but he took it with a stone face. To him, I suppose our deep secret wasn't a joking matter. Still, this was the first time he himself had verbally acknowledged that I was his child. He used the D-word,  which he had not done in our previous meetings. (p. 123-4)

Hardly a year later and shortly after Thurmond's marriage to a pretty aide who was less than half his age, the Governor returned to his family-ingrained prejudices against the black race. In response to President Truman's address to Congress on civil rights, Thurmond vowed that South Carolina was "ready to fight back," denounced Truman's civil rights measures as "anti-American," and  defended segregation laws as "essential to the racial protection and purity of the white and Negro races alike." (p.133-4)

Essie Mae felt as if, " mother and I, and the blacks of South Carolina, had been stabbed in the back.  That summer, she had "too much rage to seek company for my misery. I wanted to forget."

So, she got married to a man who had been pursuing her for years, Julius Williams. Not wanting to hurt him in anyway and concerned over how he would react to her white parentage, she kept her father's identity a secret.

"I kept my history, and my anger, to myself." (p. 135)
Next week I'll share a conversation when she finally expresses some of that anger. 

For previous posts in this series:

Part I
Part II
Part III


Linda A. said...

Keep them coming. It's like a season of a television series. Outstanding job.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Linda. So glad you're enjoying this series!

Linda Phillips said...

I agree with Linda only it's better than watching a TV series. Keep it up!

Kathleen said...

This is such a captivating story, yet heartbraking at the same time. Thank you for sharing!

Rosi said...

I am also enjoying this detailed series. Great stuff, Carol.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks friends. I'm glad Essie Mae's story is resonating among you too.

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