Of Their Times

The expression "a product of his time" re Strom Thurmond has been circulating since Mrs. Essie Mae Washington Williams' first announcement that she was the daughter of the senator and his family's housekeeper. But in how many ways was SHE heself a product of her time? My foster mother was teaching at Claflin University just next to S.C. State University when Mrs. Washington Williams was a student there. I asked my foster mother if she had known about Mrs. Washington Williams during those days. She said nearly everyone knew she was Thurmond's daughter but no one EVER said anything about it openly. She described Mrs. Washington Williams as pleasant and dignified. I couldn't get from my foster mother, she was in her late '80s at the time we were talking, why this was the case -- respect? fear?. She wouldn't or couldn't say. I always find myself going back to the fact that it was NOT uncommon for prominent white men to have children by black women back in the day. Some of the children benefited from that paternity but many (most?) were marginalized and without a true place on either side of the color line. And that is what made the mulatto of literature and film so "tragic."


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