The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Friday, December 19, 2003
Bloviation on Strom reaching Force Trent
In England, hundreds gather of a weekend to re-enact the battles of the Civil War (the Cromwell v King Charles one), in costume and with weapons, camp-followers and much gusto.
In the US, one has Colonial Williamsburg and Plimouth Plantation.
Now, it seems, some of the temporally challenged (ie, by having been born too late for the real thing) are looking to make good a gap in their PC CV by re-fighting the civil rights struggle by tilting at the propped-up corpse of Strom Thurmond.
A new level on the Beaufort Scale of synthetic white outrage - with the assistance of quotes from a bouquet of black academics - is reached with a piece in Salon (December 18 - behind ad-wall) by Rebecca Traister .
Now, I'd have thought the target readership a Salon writer would have in mind would be American, pretty sophisticated and well-read, and looking for well-supported argument and insightful analysis. From Traister, one gets a gush of emotional mush.
The opening grafs start as Traister means to go on:
In 1948, while running for president of the United States on the Dixiecrat ticket, Strom Thurmond proclaimed, "All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement."
In target age-range, evidently, she's decided to pitch it to the lower end of junior high - an age when issues can be neatly black-and-white, and there isn't too much knowledge to get in the way of a good story.
Because, evidently, she's looking for readers to be shocked (and not in the Captain Reynaud sense) about the bayonet thing; and not to squirm at the sophomoric segue.
(The rest of us will note her use of the word force - carrying the sleazy implication that Strom raped Carrie Butler. For which there is absolutely no evidence at all.
In the next sentence she refers to their union. Go figure. )
We're evidently meant to be shocked despite the fact that, as she points out, the Strom/Carrie tale is
surely one of the oldest stories in America
(And she assumes as fact that Thomas Jefferson fathered bastards by Sally Hemings, which, so far as I'm aware, has yet to be proved.)
Traister's shtick is to be (professionally) amazed at her own profession:
But why is the truth of Thurmond's bloodlines only being reported widely now that Thurmond is dead? Why has the same press corps that was eager enough to expose the power-skewed sexual assignations of President Clinton held its tongue about a lawmaker whose interracial liaison might have changed the way his politics were received?
(The good old reliable C-word gives a sense of other axes being ground, perhaps.)
She volunteers a suggestion:
The most likely explanation for the mainstream news media's failure to report the story (assuming they knew about it and found it credible) is the ethics rule -- whether unspoken or explicit -- against exposing people's personal secrets or private lives, unless they are in a position of power and their personal life has a direct bearing on their official actions.
Now, my understanding  is that rumours of Essie Mae's existence were rife from his appearance in the official limo at her college in Orangeburg in the late 1940s; and followed him to the US Senate, around about which she was regularly seen. But her refusal to corroborate kept the story out of the press.
Besides a mainstream news outlet did report the story - if Ms Traister would condescend to admit the Washington Post to that distinction:
The Post identified Williams by her maiden name in 1992, in a lengthy account of Williams's relationship with Thurmond. The article reported that "both Thurmond and the supposed daughter have denied that he is her father, and no one has provided evidence that he is."
(She later contradicts herself again by mentioning the 1992 WaPo piece.)
And, is she suggesting that the media follow up on any salacious gossip, regardless of the position of the people affected? Even Salon hacks?
There is no shortage of bloviators ready to flutter fans of Southern-matron outrage at humming-bird speed for Traister's benefit.
Randall Kennedy of Harvard inquires ominously
I wonder why was this not raised when he was alive and powerful and this might have been worth something?
And when exactly was he powerful? And how and for whom exactly would it have been worth something? As I've pointed out several times, Strom's recklessness back in Jim Crow days implied that he didn't think his voters would mind. And, by 1992, he'd made his peace with South Carolina blacks, more or less.
It would have been great Wag the Dog action for Clinton during Monicagate, mind you...
Stephen Wainscott of Clemson U says
Basically this smacks of hush money that was paid to silence her.
Why would he pay (especially as generously as he appears to have done) if she was going to blab all over town with the story? Get this guy some fresh Pampers !
And Alvin Poussaint is, as ever, not lost for words (emphasis mine):
She didn't have Strom Thurmond as a father in any tangible sense. He was the classic absent father -- the thing they like to put on black men -- and she must have felt in her heart somewhere that he didn't love her.
Anachronistic fantasy, grievance politics and a Hammond organ in the background! Depression, World War pale into insignificance as causes of childhood distress compared with the nefarious absent fatherhood of Strom.
He's only started:
And, Poussaint continued, the feelings of rejection would not have stopped at the particulars of their personal relationship. "Here was this rabid segregationist spewing hatred toward black people, a man who in every public way was saying 'You are inferior' and that on some level he despises you, in the same way that Jefferson kept his children slaves. This is beyond hypocrisy; there is something sick about this stuff."
The poor chap seems on the point of cardiac distress - he spews some mean hatred himself, does Alvin. (And again with Jefferson.)
He has one final shot in his locker:
One thing to consider is, Did he rape her? We know at that time in history that a white man could have had a black woman for the pickings ... The definition of rape down there, back then, this didn't have a definition for black women. They were close to property, totally disenfranchised and without power; there was no one to protect them.
Now, it would, I suspect, be true that not many white men would have been convicted for raping a Negro woman in South Carolina in 1925. Probably none. But Poussaint has no evidence for his smear whatsoever.
In fact, as Traister points out,
In an interview on "60 Minutes II" Wednesday night, Washington-Williams characterized the relationship between her mother and Sen. Thurmond as an "affair"...
Amazing - or perhaps not - that Poussaint finds it hard to comprehend the possibility that Strom Thurmond and Carrie Butler had an affectionate relationship, whilst the erstwhile bigots of Edgefield County seem rather relaxed on the subject. (On the other hand, Poussaint is only nine years or so younger than Essie Mae, according to this - I suspect his anachronistic grandstanding may be tactical.)
Why the white high dudgeon? Because Strom is a safe bogey-man - segregationist and bad father! - and can be visited with guiltless, context-free invective.
Whereas a contemplation of the real history of Essie May Washington's lifetime would require hard work; and would have to include such unpalatable facts as the widespread neglect and institutionalisation of large numbers of children (North and South); and the conniving of generations of Northern politicians at the continuation of the system of Jim Crow - for immediate personal and political gain, and in order to avoid the horrors of a second Southern insurrection in defence of a second Peculiar Institution.
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