The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, December 22, 2003

Essie Mae WaPo writer trips up on detail?

There's a rather breathless how I got the scoop piece by the reporter who got the story, Marilyn Thompson (December 21) which has me somewhat puzzled.

A few grafs down, we get the following:
When Essie was born, her 16-year-old mother could not afford to feed or clothe her. At 6 months old, she was whisked out of town to live with a maternal aunt in a Pennsylvania steel town. As a teenager, she watched silently from afar as her father rose through the ranks of South Carolina politics, becoming a school superintendent, a circuit judge, a state lawmaker, a decorated D-Day hero, the state's youngest governor, the nation's oldest and longest-serving U.S. senator, at one time third in line in succession to the presidency.

Now, taken at face value, the last sentence is clearly bollocks: Essie Mae was born on October 12 1925 (as stated in the original WaPo story). She therefore ceased to be a teenager before Thurmond was elected Governor in 1946! And was nearly 30 when he first became US Senator on December 24 1954.

But, leaving that aside, it's clear from her interview with Dan Rather that she didn't realise who Thurmond was until she met him:
Dan Rather:
Did your mother tell you that it was Strom Thurman [sic] and that he was white? Or did you first realize that when you actually came in his presence?

Essie Mae Williams:
She did not mention anything about his color. And when I met him, I was surprised because she'd never mentioned that he was white.

Now, quite what Essie Mae's mother had told her about her father isn't clear - but, given how things were in South Carolina, if she'd have told Essie Mae that Thurmond was a judge, Essie Mae would surely have realised he was white.

So, since she says - and repeats - that she did not realise he was white, it's hard to see how she could have watched silently from afar - at least, until their meeting in 1941.

It's not that the strange paragraph casts serious doubt on the Essie Mae story - all there really is is a piece of copy that should have been edited, but clearly wasn't.

But it's a point to mark for future reference, perhaps, just in case.

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