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Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond Hardcover – January 25, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Every girl wants her daddy," says the recently revealed daughter of an affair between 23-year-old Strom Thurmond and the family's 15-year-old black maid, "and I wanted mine." In this surprising and sometimes poignant memoir, Washington-Williams reveals how, when she was 16, she learned that her real father was "a handsome, charming, and rich white lawyer." Washington-Williams was raised by an aunt; her biological mother, who died at 38 in a hospital's poverty ward, rarely appears. But Washington-Williams fashions her a kind of love story: "I knew [Thurmond] loved my mother. I believed he loved me, after his fashion." His fashion, as he lives out his political career—governor, presidential candidate, senator—involves surreptitious visits marked by vacuous advice and extravagant gifts. Much that others might have found bitter is given a rosy spin: as a great-aunt remembers slavery, "The massahs all looked after their children, no matter who birthed them." As Washington-Williams has it, Robert E. Lee was a "great American" and "Strom Thurmond turned out to be right about a lot of things, though segregation wasn't one of them." Washington-Williams asserts, "I am every bit as white as I am black, and it is my full intention to drink the nectar of both goblets," and notes that she has sought to join the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Readers are left to sort out the contradictions for themselves. Photos. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Essie Mae Washington-Williams worked as a teacher in the Los Angeles school district for twenty-seven years. The mother of four children, grandmother of thirteen, and great-grandmother of four, she lives in Los Angeles.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (January 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060760958
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060760953
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,191,575 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

This was a very well written book.
The love and respect shared between Senator Thurmond and Mrs. Washington-Williams mother was the stuff that forbidden love affairs are made of.
Howard A Brown
She simply tells her personal tale -- bears witness, if you will -- and in her simplicity, humanizes a strange and seldom-told story.
Ellen Rice

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

105 of 109 people found the following review helpful By Andre M. on January 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
As a Black South Carolinian myself, I would certainly love to sit down and chat with Mrs. Washington-Williams after reading this.

Anyone who was born out of wedlock, adopted, and had an ambiguous or contentious relationship with their biological father, as was the case with myself, can truly say A-MEN and indentify with the pain she describes of not being openly acknowledged by one's biological father. She does an excellent job of articulating what it's like to be in that situation and people who could identify with this will find this aspect of the book almost theraputic.

The book is great with South Carolina history. She does a good job of detailing South Carolina's dark and racist past, and it's amazing to know that her bloodline contains some of the most infamous enemies to Black people that SC has ever known (Matthew C. Butler who led a masacre of 40 Blacks in Hamburg SC in 1876, William Thurmond, Strom's dad, who masterminded the career of the pro-lynching Senator Ben Tillman who also disfranchised and Jim-crowed Blacks in SC, etc. etc.). Strom Thurmond was Abraham Lincoln compared to these guys, and Mrs. Washington-Williams makes no apologies for these characters.

Having met Strom once in 1991 myself, I can attest to what she says about Strom Thurmond's two-sidedness in his relationship with African-Americans. An uncle of mine worked for him, and even Blacks who (rightfully) detested him as I did found him strangely likeable and charming in person. But while she finds it difficult to express her ambivalence about their relationship and his refusal to publicly acknowledge her in spite fo his personal kindness, she learns not to hold back on her disgust of his public statements and policies toward African-Americans.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Kali on October 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Dear Senator is an amazing book written with candour, honesty, humour and sadness by the biracial daughter of the racist Senator Strom Thurmond who died in 2003.

I read the book from cover to cover on the day that it arrived through the post; sadly it is not a book you can get easily here in the UK.

Essie Mae Washington-Williams grew up in a segregated world that was the USA in the 1920s, until one day she found out that her Mother was actually her Aunt and her mother's sister Carrie Butler her real mother!

Another shock followed this revelation in 1938, Essie Mae had taken it for granted she had a Black father but it turned out that her father was actually a white man, not only was he white but he came from a rich and powerful white Southern family and he had been secretly supporting his once black mistress and their daughter.

Strom Thurmond was a man known and still known for his racist ideals, based on what he wrongly thought was best for black and white and idea for a perfect America did not include racial mixing, however he did not practice what he preached and his daughter Essie was living proof of his double standards.

This book could have been an angry, bitter book by a woman who had lived in the shadows for all of her 70 or so years, denying what she knew as the truth that she was in fact Strom Thurmond's first born child, never able to stand publicly at her father's side because of who he was and what he stood for.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia K. Robertson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Dear Senator: A Memoir of the Daughter of Strom Thurmond by Essie Mae Washington-Williams (written along with William Stadiem) is the autobiography of Strom Thurmond's illegitimate, biracial daughter. This is an amazing story by Washington of learning to accept and love her father and the legacy of her birth.

Washington grew up in Coatesville, PA living a fairly normal childhood until she was 16. At this time, three bombshells would change her life forever. First, she discovered that the couple she assumed to be her parents were actually an aunt and uncle. Second, when traveling to SC for the first time for a family funeral, she was exposed to the ugly face of segregation and the abject poverty in which her southern family lived. But the biggest shock was learning that her father was the prominent white lawyer and judge, Strom Thurmond. Her mother was a 16 year old housemaid in the Thurmond household when Washington was born. After meeting her father for the first time, Thurmond always seemed glad to see Washington, took an interest in her life (especially her education), and always provided her with financial assistance. They met on average once a year. But he never truly acknowledged her as his child--at least not publicly.

Dear Senator is also a window of an ugly period of our history--one that included segregation, racism and Jim Crow. It was especially difficult for Washington when Thurmond went from being a Roosevelt progressive to a Dixiecrat, running for president on a ticket that encouraged segregation and discouraged civil rights initiatives. Although he lost the race, this legacy would brand Thurmond as a racist for the rest of his life. When questioned by Washington, she was told "look at the deeds, not at the words.
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