Essie Mae Washington-Williams: Dear Senator A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond



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Hmmm On the one hand this book has some elevance as a memoir and an historical document Incidents such as the one involving Strom Thurmond and Carrie Butler were not uncommon across the South and there wereare many like the author who wereare either the esults of such unions or have heard stories about such The fact that she is bringing the events of her life to prominence is notable in itself However her eaction to and attitude concerning these events are problematic and this is where the book does not live up to its potential As noted in some earlier eviews there seems to be a lack of emotion and honesty in the book and I agree wholeheartedly I understand that people are individuals and that they interpret certain events differently However I felt that Washington Williams didn t display half of the anger and frustration that one would expect from someone who grew up the way she did For one thing she talks about the elationship between her father and mother as if it were a consensual elationship ather than a coerced one enforced by centuries of acism and the devaluation of Black women and girls bodies No Strom Thurmond did not love her mother The fact emains that this was a 15 year old girl who had no choice in the matter The author shows nearly no emotion for her mother at all nor does she attempt to understand her position There is no outrage at the fact that a 23 year old man was preying on a minor using his privilege to do so Another issue is the author s willingness to absorb all aspects of her Southern heritage No one should be ashamed of who they are and I believe that they should be made aware of and celebrate all aspects of their c Like most people I was shocked at the posthumous evelation of notorious acist Strom Thurmond s illegitimate daughter Like many I doubted that in Jim Crow South of the 20 s 30 s that her mother an underage African American girl financially dependent on the family could actually have a elationship of euals with Strom Like many others I assumed there was probably some coercion finanical if not physical force I also assumed that he paid the daughter to keep his hypocrisy uiet The book taught me not to make assumptions that the truth is complex And the truth was almost sadder and amazing than my preconceptions To ead that her mother loved Strom hopelessly To know that she herself felt obligated to keep uiet I was blown away It s also just an interesting story of growing up black. Breaking nearly eight decades of silence Essie Mae Washington–Williams comes forward with a story of uniue historical magnitude and incredible human drama Her father the late Strom Thurmond was once the nation's leading voice for acial segregation one of his signature political achievements was his 24–hour filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957 done in the name of saving the South from mongrelization Her mother however was a black teenager named Carrie Butler

In the 30 s 40 s and 50 s in the North Pennsylvania and NYC where there was freedom And her time and easons for eturning in South Carolina is also compelling eading The descriptions of meetings with her father are fascinating Her descriptions of her father s views of himself are astounding he honestly did not think he was acist he claimed he was tring to help the blacks so long as they kept secret It s these brief glimpses we get into Strom Thurmon d personal life and views mediated through his daughter who obviously wants to see her father in the best light that kept me glued to the book in amazement Especially interesting was that I was expecting almost wanting anger confrontation on her behalf so when her husband and children ail at Strom and she defends him or tries to mitigate their anger it is ather heart wrenching to imagine her positionI could eally empathize with what this woman went through And I applaud her for finally coming foward and sharing her story with others I highly ecommend thisAnd let me be clear this book in no way edeems Strom in any way In fact it made me despise him for his hypocrisy but Essie s experience is worth the ead And yes I d have felt it cathartic for myself if she d ever confronted her father but this is her life and her story to tell 25 stars I wanted to give this stars because I wanted to like it Maybe I was expecting too much or maybe I was just put off by the writing but it just didn t esonate with me the way I thought it wouldI think I was expecting honesty frustration anger disappointment emotion than what the eader gets It couldn t have been easy for her having her world turned upside down one lazy afternoon and then watching it get flipped inside out when she s told her father is white But the thing is there s no emotion in the tellingEssie Mae grew up in a turbulent environment She talks about her first encounter with prejudice her ealization that her friendships with the white kids would forever be altered and her seemingly unreachable dreams of becoming a career woman But there was no fire in any of these storiesShe says she was disgusted after hearing about what happened to Zack Walker and curious when she found out about Carrie Butler The only eason I know that is because it s written I felt even disgusted and curious beyond the bounds of discreet behaviorI don t think I m explaining my beef with this book very well I think the best way I could describe it woul. Ho worked as a maid on the Thurmond family's South Carolina plantationSet against the explosively changing times of the civil ights movement this poignant memoir ecalls how she struggled with the discrepancy between the father she knew–one who was financially generous supportive of her education even affectionate–and the Old Southern politician ailing against greater acial euality who efused to acknowledge her publicly From her ichly told narrative as well as the

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D be like thisEssie May spent so many pages of this book telling the eader how disappointed she was that Thurmond never took her out for dinner never asked after her mother never inuired about her husband and children things you d expect of a father It s always written that way something like I was disappointed that he called them your children instead of my grandchildren Paragraphs and paragraphs were devoted to how Strom Thurmond never acted like the absent father he was Yet when her husband the great love of her life passed away the eader got one paragraph and sentences like poor poor Julius and What a tragedy That s what I m talking about Her husband passes and she drops a what a tragedy on the eader I didn t know whether to laugh or be offended for JuliusI found I couldn t believe that she never got upset with Thurmond and that she didn t see his continual monetary support as hush money even just a little I can t believe that someone as idealistic as her as impassioned about people and family would have sat on the sidelines not judging Thurmond s political antics especially when he opened fire on her people Anyway the most enjoyable parts were her perspective into the changing world how these events changed her life Maybe she s just feeling super benevolent because Thurmond s no longer with us and because she s finally being ecognized as one of his children At any ate this wasn t nearly as good a ead as I had hoped it d be but at least it wasn t flat out terrible A memoir full of conflicting feelings and actions told with amazing personal grace Strom Thurmond was the longest serving Senator when he etired at the age of 100 and easily one of the most controversial figures over the course of his career Many emember him as a staunch segregationist Which makes the circumstances of this book all the confounding the author is his daughter who was the product of an affair he had as a very young man with his family s black maid Essie Mae grew up in the early years of her I liked the book It provided a efresher on some important history The memoir was a little epetitive and shallow The extent of Essie Mae Washington s self eflection and analysis was epeating and accepting that she wanted to be included publicy and otherwise in Strom s life but she understood why she couldn t In the end of course her existance did become public But I was looking for a little introspection into what it meant for her to be bi acial bi. Etters she and Thurmond wrote to each other over the years emerges a nuanced fascinating portrait of a father who counseled his daughter about her dreams and goals and supported her in eaching them–but who was unwilling to break with the values of his Dixiecrat constituentsWith elegance dignity and candor Washington–Williams gives us a chapter of American history as it has never been written before–told in a voice that will be heard and cherished by future generations.