A section of a recent Meet MythAmerica blog entry (regarding the history of the current raging debate over the display of the “Rebel Flag”) explored the strange anomaly of Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. Before I address the central point of this current blog entry, I’d like to briefly re-cap what was in that earlier entry regarding Mr. Thurmond.
James Strom Thurmond (December 5, 1902 – June 26, 2003) was an American politician who served for 48 years as a United States Senator from South Carolina. He ran for president in 1948 as the States Rights Democratic Party candidate, receiving 2.4% of the popular vote and 39 electoral votes. Thurmond represented South Carolina in the United States Senate from 1954 until 2003, at first as a Democrat and, after 1964, as a Republican. … Thurmond switched parties because of his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, disaffection with the liberalism of the national party, and his support for the conservatism of the Republican presidential candidate Senator Barry Goldwater. [Source]
“Dixiecrats” was the nickname of the States Rights Democratic Party mentioned above, a “third party” formed to resist the drift of the regular Democratic party toward support of integration and increased “civil rights” for minorities. President Truman had already just recently integrated the Army.
At the urging of both [Mississippi governor] Fielding Wright and former Alabama governor, Frank Dixon, Thurmond announced his candidacy for President. He did so at an almost impromptu convention in Birmingham, Alabama. The whole place was decked out in Confederate flags and portraits of Confederate officers. …
When Thurmond spoke, he forever tied together the Confederate battle flag and racism:
“I wanna tell you that the progress of the Nigra race has not been due to these so-called emancipators, but to the kindness of the good southern people. … I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.” The crowd erupted in cheering and Confederate flag waving.
As I mentioned in that earlier blog entry, Thurmond spent decades of his life, both before and after that speech, doing everything in his power to ensure that all “Nigras” in the South were forced to use “colored only” drinking fountains, prohibited from entering “white” libraries and “white” swimming pools, prohibited from receiving service at “white” lunch counters and in “white” restaurants, and were herded into segregated sections in most movie theaters and on buses and trains.
What I neglected to mention is that he was not quite honest about not admitting them into white “homes.” For, of course, many white homes, especially those of the upper class such as Thurmond’s family, engaged the services of Negro servants in their homes. Many had a Negro cook to make all meals…
…a Negro maid to do cleaning, help the cook in the kitchen, and more…
…and a Negro nanny to care for the children… and clear up to the early 1900s it wasn’t all that uncommon for affluent white mothers with newborn infants to even hire a Negro woman (with a recent baby of her own…) to be a “wet nurse” for her baby.
Strom Thurmond was born into an affluent family in 1902 in South Carolina. I think it highly likely that his family home sported a Negro cook, a Negro maid—and he may even have been suckled at a Negro wet-nurse’s breast! These 1911 portraits from that very time period would have shown a typical arrangement for a young rich child’s care.
Actually, I am sure the Thurmond family at least had a Negro maid. Because in 2003, immediately after Strom Thurmond’s death at age 100, a 77-year-old very light-skinned African American woman named Essie Mae Washington-Williams announced in the public media that her mother had been a 16-year-old household maid in the home of Strom Thurmond’s parents 77 years earlier.
Essie in 2003
And her father…was 22-year-old Strom Thurmond. Who had, in 1925, seduced her mother, Carrie Butler, into having sexual relations with him, and impregnated her.
Carrie secretly “sent away” her new baby to live with an aunt and uncle in Pennsylvania. Essie grew up assuming they were her natural parents. When she was 16, her mother Carrie confessed to her the real situation, and took her to meet Thurmond in South Carolina. It was an awkward private meeting in his law office. Her mother point-blank introduced him to her as “your father.” Thurmond didn’t add any affirmation of his own, but didn’t deny it. Nor did he offer any personal show of affection to either of the women. He didn’t even call Carrie by name during the meeting. After exchanging pleasantries for a time, they all shook hands and the women departed.
On their walk back to the black side of town, Carrie told her daughter about her ongoing affair with Thurmond.
“Does he love you?” Essie Mae asked.
“I hope so,” Carrie said. “I think so.”
“Do you love him?”
“Does he have a wife?”
“What can we do?”
“Nothing,” Carrie responded. “This is South Carolina.” [Source]
Yes, 16 years after the birth of his illegitimate child, at the age of 38…and still unmarried…he was still involved in an affair with her mother! An African American. Who was, according to him, unqualified, as a “Nigra,” for admission to sit next to him in a restaurant or a theater, should never be allowed in a “white” swimming pool or library, should sit at the back of the bus or in a shabby, separate train car on the train.
But obviously was allowed to share his bed.
It’s not clear how much longer the affair lasted, but I would suppose it ended at least with his first marriage at age 44, in 1947. Of course he married a white Southern Belle, befitting his station in life. In spring 1947, he was part of the panel judging the contestants in the Miss South Carolina contest. Three months later he proposed to the winner of that contest, 21 year old Jean Crouch who had just graduated from college.
Over the years, Thurmond never openly acknowledged his first-born daughter as his own, but he did provide some support for her, including paying for her to go to college—of course, at a “historically black” institution. After his death, his remaining family members affirmed Essie’s claim as his daughter, and her name was added to official lists of his off-spring.
I have shared an abbreviated version of the story of Strom Thurmond again above, because the earlier blog entry prompted an interesting comment and question from a reader. This person was startled by the Cognitive Dissonance obvious in the story—the jangling logical disconnect between Thurmond’s life-long racist rhetoric, and his many-years-long affair with a person of the Negro race. The question was this:
Wow! Think of the change Strom Thurmond could have made if he had worked for change. It baffles me how a man can seduce a woman when he hates her color. Why? And for him to continue the affair for years.
The answer lies in the commonly-misunderstood distinction between “Racism” and “Race Hatred.”
There really are “white” people, throughout the past and up to now, who literally do hate the whole Negro race. Here’s one of them.
Their typical approach has never been to try to accommodate African Americans in any way within American society. It has been to insist that they have absolutely no “right” to be here (even though most are descended from people who certainly didn’t make a choice to leave Africa and come here!) The demand of these people is that ALL Negroes should go back to Africa, where they “are from” (even though most black families have lived for many, many generations in the US…perhaps two centuries or more. They are no more “from” Africa than the descendants of Italian immigrants who came to the US in 1900 are “from” Italy.) No matter…they should go back where they “belong.” This was a typical demand of many anti-integration protesters in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, as seen in this news photo of high school students.
People embracing this level of Race Hatred helped fuel a market in the early 1960s for “Hatenanny Records.”
(You can read about this phenomenon, which still exists on the Internet today, in another recent blog entry, “This Land Ain’t YOUR Land, This Land is MY Land.”)
This type of person really DOES “Hate the color” of non-Caucasian people. Or, you might say, he identifies which individuals to hate by noting their color.
But such “race haters” may well have been in the minority in the Southern United States, both before and after the Civil War, and right up to the present. It is my understanding that most “white” Southerners have never “hated” those of a darker color than themselves. Many just merely thought them to be totally inferior as human beings. As long as they “stayed in their place,” and weren’t “uppity,” as long as they did what they were told, they might even expect “affection” from the whites. As Strom Thurmond put it, they could receive the “kindness of the good Southern People.” Or, as this sign, often seen at anti-integration protests in the Civil Rights era put it, Southerners were actually the “best friends” the Negro had…as long as he didn’t demand integration and social equality with whites.
And when it has come to sexual relations, the reality is that the average male looking for a casual sexual partner has never had a “requirement” that such a partner be his social equal. Many have been quite comfortable with the fact that they can receive the “sexual services” of a woman of another race, just as they accepted such a woman’s services as a cook or a maid. Her “color” was not a deterrent to pleasure in sex. He need not reject or “hate” her for her color in this context at all.
And this approach to “interracial sex” between white males and non-white females has a very long history in the US, as documented in the writings of Mary Chesnut.
Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut (March 31, 1823 – November 22, 1886), better known as Mary Boykin Chesnut, was a South Carolina author noted for writing a sophisticated diary describing the American Civil War and her circles of Southern society. In 1981 it was republished under the title Mary Chesnut’s Civil War and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1982.
As the daughter of a governor and senator from South Carolina and wife of senator and Confederate General James Chestnut, Jr., who was an aide to President Jefferson Davis, she knew intimately the Confederacy’s political and military leaders. Because of her extensive travels with her husband she found herself at Montgomery when the new nation was founded, at Charleston when the war started, and at Richmond with President Davis and his inner circle. [New World Encyclopedia]
Yes, Mary Chesnut recorded the doings of upper class South Carolina men long before the birth of Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. And she wrote this about those South Carolina men in her diary, before the Civil War.
Like the patriarchs of old our men live in one house with their wives and their concubines, and the mulattoes one sees in every family exactly resemble the white children-and every lady tells you who is the father of all the mulatto children in everybody’s household, but those in her own she seems to think drop from the clouds….
Obviously the men Mary wrote about didn’t “hate” the Negro slave women who were bearing them children. They were more than happy to receive the “service” of sex from them, just as they received their services to keep the home clean, cook their meals, and more. And of course, at that time it was not even necessary to “send away” any offspring of these liaisons, as Strom Thurmond no doubt demanded of Carrie Butler in order to keep his “reputation.” As Mary Chesnut explained, “open secrets” were acceptable in antebellum Southern Society, and winked at among the upper class.
In modern times, some Southern men of all classes have continued to be more than willing to “receive services” from black women…and even girls. You can see evidence of this in a classic book published in 1961 titled Black Like Me.
Black Like Me is a nonfiction book by journalist John Howard Griffin first published in 1961. Griffin was a white native of Dallas, Texas and the book describes his six-week experience travelling on Greyhound buses (occasionally hitchhiking) throughout the racially segregated states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia passing as a black man. Sepia Magazine financed the project in exchange for the right to print the account first as a series of articles.
Griffin kept a journal of his experiences; the 188-page diary was the genesis of the book.[In order to darken his skin so that he was accepted as a Negro]… Griffin underwent a regimen of large oral doses of the anti-vitiligo drug methoxsalen, trade name Oxsoralen, and spending up to fifteen hours daily under an ultraviolet lamp.
I bring up this book because I particularly remember a section where he describes entering a segregated “Colored” bus station men’s bathroom in Alabama and discovers that it is typical for WHITE men to tape “notices” …. want ads…on the stall doors… offering a sliding scale of “fees” they were willing to offer for sex with black women. A nineteen year old could get $2, on up to $7.50 for a fourteen year old… more if particularly “perverted” sex was wanted. And the one posting the notice offered any Negro man $5 for “delivering” a suitable companion to him.
Let me reiterate, though…this approach ONLY applied to situations regarding relations between a white male and a non-white female. The notion of a white female having a sexual encounter, either consensual or through rape, with a non-white male has always been an entirely different matter! In fact, no actual sexual contact need be involved—the mere hint that a black man might have a sexual interest in a white woman has been throughout American history met with rage at best…and a violent death at worst. Witness the case of 14 year old Emmet Till in 1955 in Mississippi.
Emmett Louis Till (July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955) was an African-American teenager who was lynched in Mississippi at the age of 14 after reportedly flirting with a white woman.Till was from Chicago, Illinois, and visiting relatives in Money, a small town in the Mississippi Delta region. He spoke to 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant, the married proprietor of a small grocery store there. Several nights later, Bryant’s husband Roy and his half-brother J. W. Milam went to Till’s great-uncle’s house and abducted the boy. They took him away and beat and mutilated him before shooting him and sinking his body in the Tallahatchie River.
Three days later, Till’s body was discovered and retrieved from the river.Till’s body was returned to Chicago. His mother, who had mostly raised him, insisted on a public funeral service with an open casket to show the world the brutality of the killing. “The open-coffin funeral held by Mamie Till Bradley exposed the world to more than her son Emmett Till’s bloated, mutilated body. Her decision focused attention not only on American racism and the barbarism of lynching but also on the limitations and vulnerabilities of American democracy”.
Tens of thousands attended his funeral or viewed his casket and images of his mutilated body were published in black-oriented magazines and newspapers, rallying popular black support and white sympathy across the U.S. Intense scrutiny was brought to bear on the condition of black civil rights in Mississippi, with newspapers around the country critical of the state. Although initially local newspapers and law enforcement officials decried the violence against Till and called for justice, they soon began responding to national criticism by defending Mississippians, which eventually transformed into support for the killers.
In September 1955, Bryant and Milam were acquitted of Till’s kidnapping and murder. Protected against double jeopardy, Bryant and Milam publicly admitted in an interview with Look magazine that they killed Till. [Source]
Yes, the only “penalty” Strom Thurmond got from sexually seducing a 16 year old black girl and impregnating her, was an illegitimate child that he mostly ignored for over 75 years. Plus he received sexual services for well over a decade, with no need to even waste money on “dates”…he couldn’t have taken Carrie Butler out to eat or to a movie, even if he wanted to, because of her “color.”
But young Emmett Till, whose only “crime” was being too friendly to a white woman paid the ultimate price. This mind-boggling double standard was an unspoken part of the “great Southern tradition” that Strom Thurmond was still bragging about in 1961 when he spoke at the opening ceremonies of the 100th anniversary commemoration of the Civil War in Charleston.
Thurmond warned the crowd that integration was a Communist plot designed to weaken America. “It has been revealed time and time again that advocacy by Communists of social equality among diverse races… is the surest method for the destruction of free governments.”
“I am proud of the job that South Carolina is doing [in regard to segregation],” Thurmond said, “and I urge that we continue in this great tradition no matter how much outside agitation may be brought to bear on our people and our state.”
I’m sure Thurmond would have been the first to tell you that he certainly didn’t “hate” Nigras at all. He just understood their God-given place in the order of things. What was that place?
Below are excerpts from the famous “Cornerstone Speech” delivered on March 21, 1861 in Savannah, Georgia, by Alexander Stephens, the Confederate Vice President. Just a mile or so across the river from Thurmond’s South Carolina. The speech came less than a month before the firing on Ft. Sumter, just 100 miles up the coast in Charleston, South Carolina, which precipitated all-out war. In it, Stephens explains the “foundations and cornerstone” of the new “Confederate nation” being formed as a result of the secession of the Southern, slave-holding states.
The new Constitution [of the Confederacy] has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions—African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.
…Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.
The Civil War ended the ability for Southerners to claim that slavery had to be the natural and normal condition of the negro race. But “subordination to the superior race”? That was still the cornerstone of the mindset of Strom Thurmond as he exercised his “right” as a Southern gentleman to receive the services of a Nigra. (At the same time he made sure she and “her kind” couldn’t enter public spaces “reserved for whites.”)
That kind of service displayed Carrie Butler’s “proper status” in Strom Thurmond’s “form of civilization.” I’m sure he regularly felt “gratitude for services rendered”!
Nope, he didn’t “hate her for her color” at all.
Then again…she never knew if he loved her…