The illegitimate daughter of the late Senator Strom Thurmond breaks her lifelong silence. Her father, the longtime senator from South Carolina, was once the nation's leading voice for racial segregation; he mounted a filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957 -- in the name of saving the South from "mongrelization." Her mother was Carrie Butler, a black teenager who worked as a maid on the Thurmond family's South Carolina plantation. The memoir reveals a brave young woman who struggled with the discrepancy between the father she knew -- financially generous, supportive of her education, even affectionate -- and the old Southern politician who refused to acknowledge their relationship in public.
An argument can be made that since her mother, Carrie was in the employ of the Thurmonds, their sex may not have been entirely consentual (much like Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings). Strom Thurmond didn't have to do any of the things he chose to do for his mulatto daughter and he risked a lot by making special trips to see Essie Mae and giving her cash. He also can't be blamed for his daughter's long silence. He never told her to not tell anyone. That was Essie Mae's choice alone.
Essie Mae shows herself to be far more forgiving than most other people would be. Accepting her father's shortcomings whilst never agreeing with his policies and ideals but most poignantly of all she proves herself to be a good and loyal daughter, something that Strom Thurmond did not deserve in my opinion.
There is one moment that I had to question in this book. When Essie Mae leaves her children in California to attend her husband, Julius’ funeral. I understand the financial part (help from her father at this time would have been then) but the emotional deprivation of saying goodbye to their father seemed crucial. Still, Washington's story is one of courage, perseverance and grace.
I would have liked to see pictures of her mother, aunt and uncle in “Dear Senator” and she never explains what happens to relatives including her brother Willie, Father/Uncle and Cousin Calvin.
This is an amazing story by Washington of learning to accept and love her father and the legacy of her birth. The story is well written, fascinating and bittersweet to read. This book is not only personal but very factual. This is an interesting historical document. “Dear Senator is written with candor, honesty, sadness and spirit.
However, it is not the Senator but the daughter who is most important in this story. He was clearly a flawed figure, in fact a failuer in politics, despite his elections, it was she who became the success, holding true to her ideals.
It is a good read and leaves on thinking about how politicians compartmentalize their lives and exclude family members.
Essie lived a dicotomous life loving the father she met at 16 years of age; a financially generous, educationally supportive man contrasted with his belief in the old southern philosophy of racial inequity and complicated by a dual hidden life. Essie emerges as the voice of harmony and higher character, a woman who accepted her father as flawed, continued to honor him while managing an affectionate peace with the the man and the conflict.
Essie Mae Washington
Bi-racial illegitimate daughter of Strom Thurmond
2005 book. She born in 1925, found out he was her father in 1941.
Did not go public until after his death.
What an incredible true story.
Read in 2006.