Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Pain of Essie Mae Washington-Williams

Essie Mae Washington Williams, who this week acknowledged being Strom Thurmond's daughter, grew up without either of her parents. She was raised by an aunt and had little contact with her mother. Her mother introduced her to Thurmond when she was a teenager but neglected to tell her before hand that he was white. As she put it, "Then obviously I knew."

The Washington-Williams story is the story of black America in microcosm. The right of white men to sexually subjugate black women began in slavery and continued until very recently. We will never know the nature of the relationship between Thurmond and Mrs. Washington Williams mother. Apparently her mother was above the age of consent in South Carolina but I really don't care. Could a young black girl in South Carolina in the 1920s stop the advances of a white man? No. Many black women ended up on greyhound buses and trains headed north because that was the only escape from the Strom Thurmonds of the world. My maternal grandparents left Alabama for Ohio and never looked back. My mother says that they were never nostalgic for the south and never wanted to return, not even to visit. The terrors inflicted by Strom Thurmond and his ilk sent millions of people across the Mason-Dixon line, many like my grandparents never returned.

I don't know why Essie Mae Washington Williams didn't come forward sooner. His financial support of her was probably predicated on her continued silence. I respect her reasons for keeping quiet but I do wish this news had been revealed when Thurmond was still alive.