STROM’S GIRL A few years ago, my neighbor, Frank* approached me when I was at the mailbox. He had noticed the “Clinton/Gore” sign in my yard and wanted to talk to me about his feelings regarding Bill Clinton. “How?”, he asked, “can you support Bill Clinton? He is so immoral. He fathered a black child when he was Governor of Arkansas”. (The word “black” was not the descriptive word used.) My neighbor went on to announce that he had once been a Democrat, but had left the party because Republicans had better “Christian values.” He told me he knew all about Bill Clinton because the Sunday School class at the church he formerly attended in Arkansas regularly discussed President Clinton’s “ immorality”. Imagine that.
During this season of miracles and wonder, let us hope for the greatest of all miracles - that our country will take a holiday from hypocrisy.
I was surprised, but not entirely shocked. Having grown up in the South, I have been accustomed to hearing offensive racist remarks. What is stunning, however, is that Frank is a family man, and an active member of his church, who presides at prayer breakfasts, Bible classes, and Christian men’s groups. He is also involved in civic organizations that perform acts of charity such as delivering health supplies to developing countries in Central America. By all appearances, he is what people call a “fine, Christian, man.” Such is the perception for white, fundamentalist, Southerners. This past week, I have thought about Frank and his comments that day at the mailbox. I have thought about his friends, the fellow church goers. I wonder if his former Sunday School class members discuss George W. Bush’s “immorality”. But what I really would like to know is what they think of the bombshell that was delivered that did not concern the capture of Saddam Hussein. Essie Mae Washington-Williams, a seventy eight year old former California school teacher, publicly announced she is the late Senator Strom Thurmond’s illegitimate black daughter. Her story is a remarkable one. Mrs. Washington- Williams was fathered by Strom Thurmond when he was a twenty two year old, living at his parent’s home while working as a public school teacher. Her mother, 16 year old Carrie Butler, was the family’s maid. What would the people in the town of Aiken, SC , where Mrs. Williams was born, think if a 22 year old male public school teacher fathered a child with an under age girl in today’s world? This truly fascinating story was kept secret from the world so that Senator Thurmond could pursue his life in politics. In an interview with Dan Rather, Mrs. Washington- Williams admitted that if she had come forth with her story, during the Senator’s lifetime, he would have been politically ruined. America is familiar with the kind of politics Strom Thurmond pursued. He was the country’s most passionate segregationist. He believed in and fought for an American Apartheid. While he was railing against integrated schools, bathrooms, and restaurants, he was secretly giving his black daughter envelopes of cash. While he was fighting against voting rights and Civil rights for blacks, he was paying tuition to an all black college for the daughter he publicly renounced by claiming the son born to him and his white wife was the first child to make him a father. In turn, Essie Mae has remained the respectful firstborn who is grateful for the brief demonstrations of love and courtesy he seldom bestowed to her. Perhaps, in the South of today, people would say Strom Thurmond was a “fine, Christian man” because he financially provided for his secret daughter. Such is the still the perception of many. My neighbor, Frank, recently had a Christmas party for his Sunday School class. Some of the cars sported bumperstickers that read, “Jesus is the reason for the season”. Imagine that - Jesus and the N-word co-habitating in the same house. During this season of miracles and wonder, while we are harking the heralds and assembling the faithful, let us reflect on stories such as Essie MaeWashington-Williams and hope for the greatest of all miracles - that our country will take a holiday from hypocrisy. *Name changed to protect the identity of the individual.

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