Interracial Intimacies: An Examination of Powerful Men and Their Relationships across the Color Line

Posted in Books, History, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2015-03-07 02:02Z by Steven

Interracial Intimacies: An Examination of Powerful Men and Their Relationships across the Color Line

Carolina Academic Press
144 pages
Paper ISBN: 978-1-59460-496-6

Earl Smith, Professor Emeritus of Sociology
Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Angela J. Hattery, Professor and Director of Women and Gender Studies
George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia

Unique among books on interracial relationships, this book examines the lives of high profile men who have produced public discourses on race and interracial relationships and who themselves, often contradictory to their rhetoric, were or continue to be involved in love relationships across the color line. The book opens with a discussion of the history of interracial couplings in the United States, including an examination of the relationship of Richard and Mildren Loving which led to the landmark case Loving v. Virginia in which the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1967, rendered unconstitutional all state laws that prohibited interracial marriage. Each of the subsequent chapters is devoted to an individual man or couple; we explore the lives of men about whom their interracial relationships are relatively well known, including Thomas Jefferson, Strom Thurmond, Clarence Thomas, Frederick Douglass, and William Cohen. We also explore a few figures about whom less is known about their intimate lives including George Washington and Richard Mentor Johnson.

Rather than simply focusing on the relationships exclusively, this book examines specifically the role that power plays in shaping the negotiation of intimate relationships, family forms, racial identity, hegemonic ideology and public policy among public figures who not only contributed to the public discourses on race and interracial unions, but also contributed to the racial ideologies that gained hegemony and dominated Americans’ beliefs about race and the laws and public policies that established second class citizenship for those identified as “Black.”

This book offers the interested reader a glimpse into the personal lives of famous and not so famous American men who clandestinely or in open view loved women across the color line. In some cases, these loving relationships mirrored the men’s beliefs about race and interracial unions—Richard Mentor Johnson, William Cohen—and in others these relationships were in seeming contradiction to the beliefs these men held and in fact developed about racial purity and segregation—Thomas Jefferson, Clarence Thomas, Strom Thurmond. These contradictions between the public and private lives of our country’s public servants offers a rich arena for exploration of race in the United States. In light of the recent election of the first African American president, Barack Obama, this book could not be more timely.

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The genes that build America

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Barack Obama, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Politics/Public Policy, Slavery, United States on 2013-11-19 04:17Z by Steven

The genes that build America

The Guardian

Paul Harris, US Correspondent

From the discovery that presidential hopeful Barack Obama is descended from white slave owners to the realisation that the majority of black Americans have European ancestors, a boom in ‘recreational genetics’ is forcing America to redefine its roots. Paul Harris pieces together the DNA jigsaw of what it really means to be born in the USA

Al Sharpton walked into a South Carolina pine forest just outside the sleepy southern town of Edgefield and stopped at a cluster of toothlike unmarked gravestones. This was the former plantation on which a few generations ago his ancestors had worked, lived, loved and died, owned as property by white masters. ‘You must assume that it’s family here,’ Sharpton said, referring to the abandoned slave graveyard.

A few weeks previously Reverend Sharpton, one of America’s most outspoken black civil rights leaders, had not known of the cemetery’s existence. But researchers had explored his genealogy and broken the news to him. Sharpton’s story had an astonishing twist: the genealogists discovered that his ancestors had once been owned by the ancestors of Strom Thurmond, the Senator and former segregationist who once ran for president on a racist platform. The phrase ‘ironic coincidence’ did not begin to cover it…

Read the entire article here.

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Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, United States, Women on 2013-02-05 23:00Z by Steven

Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond

240 pages
Trimsize: 6 x 9
Trade Paperback ISBN: 9780060761424; ISBN10: 0060761423

Essie Mae Washington-Williams and William Stadiem

Breaking nearly eight decades of silence, Essie Mae Washington-Williams comes forward with a story of unique historical magnitude and incredible human drama. Her father, the late Strom Thurmond, was once the nation’s leading voice for racial 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 who worked as a maid on the Thurmond family’s South Carolina plantation.

Set against the explosively changing times of the civil rights movement, this poignant memoir recalls 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, railing against greater racial equality, who refused to acknowledge her publicly. From her richly told narrative, as well as the letters 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 reaching them–but who was unwilling to break with the values of his Dixiecrat constituents.

With 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.

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Essie Mae Washington-Williams dies at 87; black daughter of segregationist Strom Thurmond

Posted in Articles, Biography, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States, Women on 2013-02-05 19:41Z by Steven

Essie Mae Washington-Williams dies at 87; black daughter of segregationist Strom Thurmond

The Los Angeles Times

Elaine Woo

In 2003 the retired L.A. schoolteacher unburdened herself of a secret: Her father was Sen. Strom Thurmond, the legendary South Carolina politician who had built a career as a champion of segregation.

A week before Christmas in 2003, a retired Los Angeles schoolteacher stood before a phalanx of news cameras and 250 reporters in a South Carolina ballroom and declared, “I am Essie Mae Washington-Williams, and at last I am completely free.”
After more than 60 years, Washington-Williams had chosen to unburden herself of a secret: that she, a black woman, had been fathered by a white man — Sen. Strom Thurmond, the legendary South Carolina politician who had built a long Washington career as a champion of segregation.
Thurmond had died five months earlier at age 100, having never acknowledged that his liaison with a family maid when he was 22 had produced a daughter. At 78, Washington-Williams decided she owed it to history to speak up.

“My children ultimately convinced me that history needed to know about Thurmond and that I should set the record straight,” she wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2003. “I am not doing this for money. I am not suing his estate. I just want to tell the truth.”
Washington-Williams, 87, died Monday of natural causes in Columbia, S.C., said her attorney, Frank K. Wheaton. After more than 40 years in Los Angeles, she moved back to South Carolina a few years ago when her health began to deteriorate…

Read the entire obituary here.

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Book Review Essay – The Legacy of Jim Crow: The Enduring Taboo of Black-White Romance

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Law, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2011-07-02 19:33Z by Steven

Book Review Essay – The Legacy of Jim Crow: The Enduring Taboo of Black-White Romance

Texas Law Review
Volume 84, Number 3 (February 2006)
pages 739-766

Kevin R. Johnson, Dean and Mabie-Apallas Professor of Public Interest Law and Chicana/o Studies
Univesity of California, Davis

Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond. By Essie Mae Washington-Williams & William Stadiem. New York: Regan Books, 2005. Pp. 223.

Unforgivalbe Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. By Geoffrey C. Ward. New York: Knopf, 2004. Pp. xi, 492.

Over the last one hundred years, racial equality has made momentous strides in the United States. State-enforced segregation ended. Slowly but surely, the nation dismantled Jim Crow. As part of that dismantling, the Supreme Court struck down bans on interracial marriage, which were popular in many states.

Interracial relationships have increased dramatically over the last fifty years. In 2006, they meet with much greater acceptance than they did in 1950, especially in the nation’s major urban centers. The United States has begun to grapple with the issues related to interracial intimacy, such as the increasing number of mixed-race people and the controversy over transracial adoption, two topics that would have been wholly unnecessary to mention, much less analyze, just years ago. Ultimately, by transforming notions of race and races, racial mixture promises to transform the entire civil rights agenda in the United States.

Juxtaposed against this promise of transformed racial notions, however, lies this nation’s continuing battle against the enduring legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. While adeptly shedding light on the complexities of U.S. racial history, Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond and Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson reveal just how far from this legacy the nation has advanced over the twentieth century. At the same time, the books highlight the many ways in which race relations have remained more or less the same.

Born in 1925, Essie Mae Washington-Williams is the half-black daughter of the late U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond. Dear Senator tells the story of her life as the invisible child of a staunch segregationist and prominent national politician. Raised by her aunt in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, Washington-Williams was first stunned to learn as a teenager that her real mother—not her aunt as she had been told—was Carrie Butler, a young African-American woman who had worked as a domestic in the Strom Thurmond family home in South Carolina. A few years later she met her father, whose identity had been a tightly kept family secret. Only upon Thurmond’s death in 2003 did it become widely known that he had fathered Washington-Williams.

A generation before Washington-Williams’s birth, Jack Johnson became the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Unforgivable Blackness details his capture of the championship as a milestone in the social history of the United States. Previously reserved exclusively for white men, the title served as a high profile symbol of white supremacy. Consequently, Johnson’s championship reign generated great controversy and contributed to heightened racial tensions…

…Both books reveal much about the deep-seated legal and social taboos that surrounded and influenced black–white relationships before the Supreme Court’s 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia. The stories of Essie Mae Washington-Williams and Jack Johnson demonstrate how law and policy, combined with strong social forces, sought to enforce the strict separation of the races in intimate relationships. Nonetheless, from the days of Thomas Jefferson, such relationships (often nonconsensual) frequently formed between prominent white men and subservient African-American women. Interracial sex was kept secret; this secrecy served to maintain the myth of complete racial separation.

Dear Senator and Unforgivable Blackness also reveal much about the social and legal double standards used to judge interracial relationships. African Americans like Jack Johnson were harshly punished for crossing the color line. Strom Thurmond, of course, legally married a series of glamorous “All-American” women and was able to keep his relationship with an African-American domestic service worker—and his half-black daughter—a secret from the general public. That liaison crossed the same line violated by Jack Johnson but was not sanctioned in the least; indeed, it fit comfortably into a long history of white men exploiting black women.

The legacy of Jim Crow and the legal and social separation of the races continues to affect the formation of interracial relationships in the modern United States. Most Americans marry persons of the same race. Although increasing, white–black relationships are relatively rare and much less common than Asian American–white, Latino–white, and Native American– white relationships.

A body of legal scholarship analyzing racial mixture has emerged in recent years. Some of that scholarship is autobiographical, including James McBride’s best-selling book The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother. Adding to this body of literature, Dear Senator and Unforgivable Blackness tell memorable stories of the lives of two remarkable people and, at the same time, offer fascinating glimpses of how law and policy indelibly influenced them and their relationships.

This Essay analyzes how these books reveal the lasting impacts of slavery and Jim Crow on modern social relations. For even with the demise of the legal prohibition on interracial relationships, the social taboo on black–white relationships remains. So long as we live in a socially segregated society, low intermarriage rates between African Americans and whites will likely remain.

Part I of this Essay briefly summarizes the two books and places them in their proper historical, legal, and social contexts. Part II analyzes the enduring legacies of Jim Crow that Dear Senator and Unforgivable Blacknesshig highlight and discuss. These legacies include: (A) the persistence of social disfavor for black–white relationships; (B) the continued portrayal of African-American men as stereotypical criminals and hypersexual beings; (C) the endurance of the longstanding conflict between assimilation and nationalism as strategies for minorities seeking social change, personal survival, success, and happiness; and (D) the existence of white privilege in the United States, then and now…

One is left to conclude that Washington-Williams did not really know her father. The relationship was a formally cold one; one of her most lasting memories of Strom Thurmond was his strong handshake. This lack of love, or formal public acknowledgment, could not have been anything other than deeply hurtful, even though Washington-Williams refuses to condemn any of her father’s conduct.

…Despite family difficulties, Washington-Williams led a productive and successful life. She married an African-American man she met in college, who became a civil rights lawyer and died prematurely. Washington-Williams completed her undergraduate studies and later earned a master’s degree. Settling in the Los Angeles area, she was a school teacher and guidance counselor and raised a family. By all accounts, Washington-Williams self-identified as African American, growing up and living in African-American communities throughout her life. Though half-white, she suffered no burning ambiguity about her racial identity, showing again that race is a social, not a biological, construct. In this way, Washington-Williams self-identified as did many mixed-race African Americans, including W.E.B. DuBois and Frederick Douglass.

At the individual level, the painful experiences of Washington-Williams show an extreme example of the racial identity issues mixed-race people in the United States face. Importantly, she went public after Thurmond’s death to clear the air and end the years of media speculation about whether Strom Thurmond was her father. Now claiming to feel “completely free,” Washington-Williams is exploring her white roots and has gone so far as to seek membership in the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

It was the cruelest of ironies that not only was Essie Mae Washington-Williams’s father white, but he was also one of the most well-known segregationists of his generation. Strom Thurmond, along with many other Southern politicians, used segregation for political gain in post-World War II America. The despised race mixing was the evil thrown out like meat to the dogs when the issue of African-American civil rights was raised; campaign promises to attack this evil won many votes. Thurmond embraced racist views in spite of his long-time relationship with a black woman, thus himself engaging in race-mixing by fathering a child and maintaining a relationship with his half-black daughter. The inconsistencies between Thurmond’s personal and professional lives, of course, are in no way unheard of in U.S. history.

Racial mixture is part of this nation’s heritage. However, U.S. society historically went to great lengths to keep it underground. But when social norms failed to maintain the public separation of the races, law intervened with a vengeance, as it did in Jack Johnson’s life…

Read the entire article here.

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Free at Last: The secret of Esie Mae Washington Williams is out, but she still doesn’t have full control over her story

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States, Women on 2010-02-07 21:14Z by Steven

Free at Last: The secret of Esie Mae Washington Williams is out, but she still doesn’t have full control over her story

Bloomington Herald-Times
Courtesy of: Black Film Center/Archive
Indiana University

Audrey T. McCluskey, Director Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center
Indiana University

After 78 years of harboring a less than well-kept secret, Essie Mae Washington-Williams proclaimed that by publicly naming South Carolina‘s Strom Thurmond, the once fiery segregationist senator and Dixiecrat presidential candidate as her father, for the first time she felt “completely free.” Her story garnered massive news coverage, not because the sexual exploitation of her 16-year-old black mother, Carrie Butler, by the 22-year-old Thurmond in whose household Butler worked as a maid was different from numerous other examples of lustful hypocrisy. The attention came because the late senator built his career on virulent racism, espousing the evils of race-mixing before moderating those views after he was well past his political prime. The kind of hateful rhetoric that Thurmond was good at caused many black men to lose their lives at the end of a rope, strung from a Poplar or Pecan or Live Oak tree. Their crime? It was to be accused of a liaison with a white woman or even of taking a wayward glance at one…

Read the entire article here.

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