The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Sunday, December 14, 2003
Evidence of Ol' Strom's taste for brown sugar?
Apparently, the story is well-known amongst those who know such things well  - but Strom Thurmond, candidate of the States' Rights Party (aka Dixiecrats) in the US Presidential Election of 1948, had him some sweet loving with his father's maid  back in the 20s. And the fruit of their union, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, has decided to get her fifteen minutes right now (WaPo December 14 - link via TalkLeft).
To say that Thurmond was indiscreet is putting it mildly: according to the piece, having been elected Governor, he installed her in South Carolina State College in Orangeburg, and
arrived in his official car to visit with her.
As rumors of Essie Mae's relationship with Thurmond filtered through the South, leaders of an emerging civil rights movement sought to use the student as political ammunition.
Which raises the obvious question, What happened? The piece says that she was
first interviewed in 1984- presumably, she had previously just issued flat denials, and the allegation couldn't go any further.
(And why didn't his opponents within the Democratic Party take advantage of the rumour? Or did they?
As I've pointed out before, Thurmond was elected in 1946 as a liberal - in Southern terms. As Governor, he ran in 1950 for the US Senate against Olin Johnston - ironically nicknamed Olin the Solon. So bitter did the primary contest get that, according to this obituary
There are politicians still alive who remember how the two tried to outdo each other as race-baiters. At one point in the campaign, Thurmond challenged Johnston to fight outside a courthouse debate in Newberry. They never threw punches.
Perhaps accusing an opponent of fathering a mulatto bastard was just a little too strong even for a bruiser like Johnston! )
It just so happens that an August 1964  paperback by Harry Golden called Mr Kennedy and the Negroes comes to the top of the pile - which I've barely dipped into, but found the following (what he calls) joke (p24)
common...[i]n Negro homes in the city, and in Negro cabins on the farms of the South:In the North, the white man says, 'Nigger, go as high as you can, but don't come close', and in the South, the white man says, 'Nigger, come as close as you can but don't go up'.
Amazing that the coelacanth of American politics should have lived so fundamental a part of the Southern sex/race myth complex: John Dollard's Caste and Class in a Southern Town (1937), a Lynd-type  study of (I believe) Indianola, MS, included a section on interracial sex: from memory, a blind eye was turned to a good few solid citizens' maintaining Negro concubines across the tracks in Niggertown on the QT (as well as the much larger numbers who would cross those tracks just for sex.). But the one guy who had (because he'd been outed?) an open interracial relationship soon found the place too hot.
But, although Thurmond's miscegenation is something of a Southern classic, I keep coming back to why he acted so riskily with Essie Mae; and why someone didn't try to make political capital of the rumours when they were fresh...
The story of the maid, Carrie Butler, also has me curious: all to easy to assume something close to rape (threat to lose her her place, that sort of thing); but perhaps there was real affection on both sides; was the sex just the once, or a sustained affair? Did she get some sort of payoff at the time she left the Thurmonds' service?
And will the Thurmonds ask for proof?
I'm assuming there's a book coming - not to mention a TV movie.
(I'm also assuming the story's true, natch...)
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