Jewish World Review Dec. 24, 2003 / 29 Kislev, 5764

Martha Zoller

Martha Zoller
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Hypocrisy: Strom Thurmond's bastard and Jesse Jackson's | For as long as there have been men and women, older more powerful men have taken "liberties" with younger women. So when the confirmation of the long whispered rumor about the bi-racial child of Strom Thurmond and a black teenager, Carrie Butler, who worked for his parents surfaced last week, the power issue came back into full swing.

Any child conceived out of wedlock is the responsibility of both parties. This situation occurred generations ago and in those days, the only way to handle an "unplanned pregnancy" was to marry the girl, and that was out of the question in this case, or to arrange for an adoption, which is what they did. Let's be clear about this, inter-racial and inter-religious marriages were unheard of in 1925 in the South and the North. There was segregation in the South by law in 1925, but there was also de facto segregation in the North at that time. This relationship would have been unacceptable on many fronts throughout America at this time.

The age difference is an issue, but to put it in context, most teen mothers today are impregnated by men who are at least in their 20's. The love starved high school kids in the back seat of the car is the stereotype, but the statistics do not back that up. Older men have always liked to wield power over younger women. This was clearly a relationship where Thurmond held the power card.

Finally, the issue of race is discussed. This is a major issue, but like many men of his era, Strom Thurmond was able to separate his views on race in general from how he viewed people individually. By all accounts, Essie Mae Washington Williams was well taken care of, treated with respect, educated and had a good life. In her statements, she showed respect and class at a time in her life where due to age and circumstances could have said anything she wanted. She said this, "I was sensitive about his well-being, his career and his family," Ms. Williams said. "I never wanted to do anything to harm him."

The cynics would say that she was afraid to challenge him, but I believe that like any daughter, she loved him and wanted him to be proud of her. According to her own statements, she challenged him on his views on segregation and from the stammering nature of his replies; she seemed to have an impact on him. Let's hope that is the case.

Strom Thurmond took advantage of a situation that was convenient. We may never know how Thurmond and Butler felt about each other. We do know that Ms. Williams's statements indicate that she cared for him and was treated with respect over the years by him. Maybe with this revealed, we will understand more about the complexities of Strom Thurmond. He moved farther on the subject of race than almost any person in public life and knowing this chapter of his life will add to that understanding.

Amazingly, Jesse Jackson was asked to comment on this. Either because he was from South Carolina or he inserted himself in this situation. He said, "By day they are bullies. By night, they manipulate race to their advantage. The point that strikes me the most is that he lived 100 years and never acknowledged his daughter. He never let her eat at his table. He fought for laws that kept his daughter segregated and in an inferior position. He never fought to give her first-class status. Thomas Jefferson did pretty much the same."

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The hypocrisy of this statement from Jackson is that he is no different than Thurmond or Jefferson for that matter by Jackson's own definition. He impregnated a woman that worked for him, one that he was older than and that he had power over. The only difference is that the mistake is more pronounced because Jackson and his paramour were old enough to know better.

While it appears that Rev. Jackson does care for his out of wedlock child, it is doubtful that she will be at the Jackson table for Christmas dinner.

Strom Thurmond was a man of his time and he dealt with this situation the way that most men of means would have done it whether the girl that worked in his home was black or white, the out come would have been the same. There was a shame in being pregnant and not being married, whether you were white or black.

By today's lens, this should have been talked about. It would have been best if Thurmond had acknowledged her at the end of his life before he died but that did not happen. Essie Mae Washington Williams is a class act in every way. Her story should have been told long ago but we will now have the ability to get to know her and in doing so, get to know the history of a great man in American politics a little better. Whether you like Strom or not, his longevity and ability to change and act on that change, has earned him a place in history and now that history is more complete.

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JWR contributor Martha Zoller is a radio talk show host in Georgia. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2003, Martha Zoller