Thurmond Family Struggles With Difficult Truth
COLUMBIA, S.C., Dec. 19 — After Essie Mae Washington-Williams told the world this week that she was Strom Thurmond's mixed-race daughter, she walked away "completely free" of a burden she had borne privately for decades.
Now members of Mr. Thurmond's sprawling family, a well-connected dynasty in South Carolina, say they are the ones struggling.
The sudden, very public arrival of Ms. Washington-Williams to the family has stirred a mix of frustration, curiosity, discomfort and shame, several relatives of the late Mr. Thurmond said today, speaking about the news for the first time.
Mary T. Thompkins Freeman, a niece of the late senator, who died at 100 in June, said Ms. Washington-Williams's announcement "was like a blight on the family."
Like others, Ms. Freeman heard rumors for years that her uncle, a legendary politician in the South who rose to fame as a fiery segregationist, had fathered a child with a black maid. But she never had to confront the truth, not like this.
"I went to a church meeting the other day and all these people came up to me and you could tell they didn't know what to say," Ms. Freeman said. "For the first time in my life, I felt shame."
Ms. Freeman also said that had the secret daughter been white, "it would be a whole other situation," because public criticism would not have been as harsh.
"Strom rose to such stature, you just wonder how in the world this could have gone on," said Ms. Freeman, 64, a retired teacher in Lugoff, S.C. "My family always had help around the house. But it just seems Strom would have been above that."
James Bishop, a nephew, said the publicity had been "embarrassing and awkward."
"The man's dead, and he can't speak for himself," said Mr. Bishop, 59, a horticulturist in Marietta, Ga. "I don't know why this lady is doing this."
Poor Strom. He's dead and can't speak for himself. Of course, the lucky bastard lived to be 100 and lived off the public dole most of his life. He had 78 years to speak to this issue, Mr. Bishop. He took the coward's way out until the very end. That is ultimately his legacy. Lived one hundred years and NEVER developed the courage to speak the truth. Sad. Tragic. Pitiful.
Poor Strom. Took advantage of a 15-16 year old who worked as a maid in the Jim Crow South. Never acknowledged his daughter publicly. Never acknowledged his gross hypocrisy. Poor 'ol Strom. You know a man once said if we'd elected him President back in 1948 we wouldn't have had all these problems. Not sure to which problems he was referring. An epidemic of llegitimate births, perhaps. Absentee fathers run rampant. Lowlife sonsabitches unwilling to live up to their responsibilities. Strom woulda nipped those problems in the bud, you betcha.
How dare this woman speak the truth. Must've gotten that trait from her mother.