Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Strom Thurmond

A statue of Strom Thurmond stands in front of the state house in Columbia, South Carolina, a monument to the man who dominated politics in the state for more than half a century.

The base of the statue is inscribed with his many accomplishments, including serving as governor and United States Senator. He served as a Democrat as governor and initially as senator, but switched to the Republican Party over the issue of civil rights. As a staunch segregationalist, he opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, conducting a record-setting filibuster of 24 hours 18 minutes length to prevent a vote. He continued to oppose civil rights after its passage. But look closely at the inscription listing his children.

The letters spelling "five" are not nearly as crisp as the surrounding words, and there's the faint outline of "four" behind them. As the late Paul Harvey would say, "And now for the rest of the story."

Thurmond died in 2003 at the age of 100, the only U.S. Senator ever to reach that age while still in office. Six months later, an African-American woman revealed that she was Thurmond's out-of-wedlock daughter, born when he was twenty-two. Her mother was a 16-year-old maid employed by Thurmond's parents. Thurmond had supported her, but had never acknowledged her as his daughter. His family did acknowledge her when she came forward, and the "four" on the statue was changed to "five" and the name Essie Mae was added below the other names.

One is tempted to say "hypocrisy,"  but perhaps there's more than that. Consider the gay-bashing politician who is caught in a homosexual situation, or the fire-and-brimstone televangelist who is caught with a prostitute. Hypocrisy, yes; denial, certainly. And what about character and integrity?


  1. I always despised and feared Strom Thurmond. His bi-racial daughter was born when her mother was only sixteen (meaning she likely got pregnant at fifteen). As a servant in a wealthy family it is unlikely that she consented to the relationship with then 22 year-old Strom. That said, his other children had nothing whatsoever to do with their father's actions and I do admire them for having the courage to change the monument inscription.