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Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond Paperback – Bargain Price, January 24, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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.
Top Customer Reviews
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. He seemed genuinely shocked to hear his daughter say "Black people HATE you, Senator!" as if he was not accustomed to having blacks speak to him with such frankness.
There is one moment that I had to question in this book. As a South Carolina historian, I read with amusement as she described seeing the Confederate Flag flying above the State House in Columbia in 1941. Fack is folks, that flag was not put up there until 1962. But that's a minor detail.
In either case, the concluding chapter in which she sums up her views about her heritage and race relations will sound like anathema to some and will be cheered by others. Even if you disagree with her on some points, she clearly explains in her story how she come to such conclusions.
So for an important document on a seldom-discussed aspect of some of the most hypocritical factors of the Jim Crow era and as an articulation of the pain that could be caused by out of wedlock births to fathers whose emotional support is lacking, I speak with pride of Mrs. Washington Williams as my fellow South Carolinian, fellow American, and fellow human being.
If she's ever in Charleston, I'll be sure to get my copy autographed.
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.
Essie Mae, however avoids such anger, platitudes and resentment though she pulls no punches as she takes us page by page through her life, growing up not in poverty but neither in wealth, getting a good high school education and eventually becoming a teach and Strom did financially provide for his daughter over the years, and even subsequently helped her children though he never called them "his grandchildren" which hurt Essie Mae immensely.
Essie Mae's first husband Julius hated Strom Thurmond so much she didn't dare tell him at first who her real father was, the irony was that most people at the college she attended knew that Strom's biracial daughter was somewhere on campus but no one knew who she was and there was much speculation but luckily for Essie Mae no one connected her to Strom but eventually Essie had to tell her husband the truth and his shock at this revelation is almost funny in a tragic-comic way.
This is a book that smashes to pieces the theory that racial segregation worked even in a time of Jim Crow and lynchings, and that a kind of love could exist between two people from two different worlds.
With the death of her father in 2003 Essie Mae finally did what she could not do in his lifetime, she set the record straight and told the world who she was and who her father was and to give them credit the Strom's white family acknowledged her claim, accepting her as Strom Thurmond's daughter.
An insightful read which is powerful and evocative and Essie Mae shows herself to be far more forgiving than most other people would be, accepting her father's shortcomings whilst never agreeing with his policies and ideals but most poignantly of all she proves herself to be a good and loyal daughter, something that Strom Thurmond did not deserve in my opinion.
Essie Mae was and is Strom Thurmond's truest child out of all the children he fathered (the rest being by his two white wives) and he is the person who ultimately lost out, for she was everything he was not and never could be. A human being with a loving and forgiving heart...