The career of Strom Thurmond
necessarily carries the noun attachment of hypocrisy. But somehow the
word is too weak to describe what happened with Strom Thurmond, his
vicious racism and the rape of Carrie Butler. Hypocrisy is defined as:
the practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does
not hold or possess; insincerity.
While hypocrisy is certainly
applicable to Strom Thurmond’s career, the word fails to describe
the immensity of the injustice, enormity of the crimes, or the contemptibility
of his actions.
Strom Thurmond’s career
symbolizes politics in 20th century America. After all, the South controlled
politics from the beginning of the 20th century to the criminal theft
of the presidential at the end of the millennium.
In 1925 Thurmond committed
statutory rape of Carrie Butler. Fifteen years old and working in the
Thurmond home, Carrie Butler suffered the fate of many young black women
in the South. On December 18, 2003, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, Carrie’s
daughter, stated that Strom Thurmond was her father and that he had
had an “affair” with her mother. (NYT 12/18/03, p. 1 and
say ‘affair’ doesn’t quite cut it—that in
that time and place, intimidation and fear had to be a part of any
relationship of this sort, whether consensual or not. South Carolina
was an apartheid state in 1925, completely segregated, where the
racial code was brutally enforced. At the time, Mr. Thurmond was
an unmarried teacher and a high school coach in the little town
of Edgefield. Mrs. Williams’ mother swept floors and did dishes
in the Thurmond home.
‘White men were
king,’ said Valinda Littlefield, a professor of African-American
history at the University of South Carolina. ‘She was basically
a child. He can do with her what he wants. She’s more or less
the family’s slave.’
No one is saying that
Mr. Thurmond raped the teenager. But at the time, many black families
who sent their daughters off to work as maids equipped them with
straight razors or tried to get placed in homes without young men,
Dr. Littlefield said. The fear of rape was very real for blacks,
while white men saw access to black women as a time-honored privilege.”
Jeffrey Gittleman, NYT, Week in Review, p.3, 12/21/03.
But even this statement,
damning though it is, does not accurately describe Strom’s Thurmond’s
crime. Contrary to Gittleman’s statement, one must say that Thurmond
raped Carrie Butler at the age of 15. In order to appreciate the enormity
of the crime, one need only remember the Scotsboro boys, charged with
rape and jailed. Any black man who even looked or whistled at a white
women would be jailed, hung or lynched as happened to Emmett Louis Till
in 1955. Thurmond began his career committing the crime of which no
one speaks. Instead, then as now, the national media panders to white
fears of the black rapist while ignoring the much more prevalent acts
of rape by white men.
“In the history of
the United States, the fraudulent rape charge stands out as one of
the most formidable artifices invented by racism. The myth of the
Black rapist has been methodically conjured up whenever recurrent
waves of violence and terror against the Black Community have required
During the early stages
of the contemporary anti-rape movement, few feminist theorists seriously
analyzed the special circumstances surrounding the Black woman as
rape victim.” Angela Davis, Women Race and Class Vintage Books
Writing in 1983, Angela Davis
captured the essence of the issue presented and exemplified in Strom
Thurmond’s career. He built his career fighting for segregation,
the legal foundation of which was separate but equal. Obviously, at
no time during his life did he accept the separation of the races. Nevertheless,
Thurmond spent his entire career to prevent equal treatment.
Every time Strom Thurmond
defended Jim Crow segregation, he knew it depended on rape, lynching,
exploitation, and oppression. In other words, he lied every time he
took a political position. The entire ideological structure was built
on lies and injustice. Ms. Washington-Williams said Strom Thurmond “was
not a racist in his heart.” (NYT- 12/20/03, p. A 14) If not, then
he was a liar to the very depths of his soul. The people who are attacking
her now for not speaking up earlier are playing the same tired song
of “blame the victim” that this country uses to excuse the
crimes of this society.
It is insufficient to say
that those were different times, with a different moral context. Conservatives
have spent millions of propaganda dollars railing against moral relativism.
Contending there are absolute, immutable moral imperatives, conservatives
cannot abandon that position once their ideological bankruptcy is exposed.
They were not the “best” generation; they were not even
an honest generation. They may have been the most arrogant generation.
Their crimes were excused or ignored, at least by them.
These issues are burning
“Mary T. Thompkins
Freeman, a niece of the late senator, who died at 100 in June said
Ms. Washington-Williams’s announcement ‘was like a blight
on the family.’
Like others, Ms. Freeman
heard rumors for years that her uncle, a legendary politician in the
South who rose to fame as a fiery segregationist, had fathered a child
with a black maid. But she never had to confront the truth, not like
‘I went to a church
meeting the other day and all these people came up to me and you could
tell they didn’t know what to say,’ Ms. Freeman said.
‘For the first time in my life, I felt shame.’ NYT, 12/20/03,
p.1 (emphasis added)
Apparently, Mary T. Thompkins
Freeman never felt same for Thurmond’s support of a system that
condoned the open terroristic suppression of the African-American community,
a system that required rape, murder, unjust imprisonment, impoverishment,
under education, undernourishment, and under representation with over
taxation of an important, courageous section of the population.
The ideology that expresses
shame for the exposure of the sexual predation of one of its leaders
simultaneously condones that sexual predation as long as it is not exposed.
It is the exposure that is the problem or this ideology, not the act
itself. Conservative ideology whether symbolized by the career of Strom
Thurmond or expressed in the lies of the Bush cabal is an ideology built
The current administration
has substituted “color blind ‘ society for separate but
equal. But it is still an ideology built on lies, oppression and exploitation.
There is nothing “color blind” about our society just as
segregation accepted neither separation nor equality. The entire conservative
philosophy is built on mendacity and economic exploitation. Mendacity
is a base pillar of conservative political posturing. The Bush administration
could lie to the American public in order to justify sending American
workers to die in Iraq for the enrichment of a small group of war profiteers
because that is an inherent part of its philosophy. Lies for the enrichment
of its supporters is the Bush mantra.
Standing in stark contrast
to this trail of lies justifying murder, rape, lynchings, war crimes,
Essie Mae Washington-Williams expresses charity, compassion, patience
and forgiveness. In order to survive the humiliation, Essie Mae Washington-Williams
apparently had to become a very magnanimous person.
Still attacking her, conservatives
expose the petty narrowness of their philosophy. Her presence and the
power of her benevolence expose the conservative fiction that racism
is a thing of the past. The conservative media has created this strange
cultural phenomenon. Whenever a racial confrontation occurs, it is described
as everything but racism. Even Ms. Washington-Williams denies that Strom
Thurmond was a “racist in his heart.”
The conservative myth argues
that “racism is over“, that we can now rely on the myth
of a “colorblind” society. Whenever a racial confrontation
or event occurs, the first statement is that it is wrong but it is not
racism—it is personal, it might be based on class prejudice, but
it is not racism. It might be caused by male supremacy but it is not
racism. Anything but racism.
Racism is the last explanation
for an event. Ironically, whites, blacks, and all other ethnic groups
will deny racism as an explanation until there is no other choice. Even
then, it is in the past, not relevant now.
The reason everyone denies
racism is because everyone believes that as soon as racism is discussed,
there can be no common ground. A discussion of racism in this country
brings to the table 300 years of history. That history includes, of
course, slavery and economic exploitation. That economic exploitation
generated enormous profits that this country would not exist nor would
it be a rich country without slavery. Even now conservative historians
claim that the civil was not about slavery. While slavery generated
enormous profits, made a very people in this country very rich, it required
rape murder, lynchings, destruction of families, civil war and much,
much more. The crimes are indeed awesome.
Therefore, everyone believes
that bringing the question of racism to the table makes resolution of
any problem impossible. But, in fact, that history is already at the
table and there can be no resolution without discussion of the relevance
of that history.
Yours in Struggle,
Ronald D. Glotta
220 Bagley, Suite 808
Detroit MI 48226-1409
(313) 963-1320 - (313) 963-1325/Fax