Comeuppance in fiction and in history

There’s an old Orson Wells movie called “The Magnificent Ambersons.” One theme that runs through the movie is how society changes, from “the good old days” to modernity, with the development of technology and industry. But another important lesson it tries to convey is that people who spend their lives being selfish and hurting others will pay for their sins in the end.

Here’s a scene near the end involving the character who has caused the most pain in the movie:

A quaint thought. When you wreck people’s lives, you will get your comeuppance. That old-fashioned idea persists even today. I don’t hold much stock in it though, because of things like this:

Essie Mae Washington Williams, the child Senator Strom Thurmond refused to publicly acknowledge his entire adult life, has passed away.

Williams died Monday morning (Feb. 4) in Columbia at the age of 87, News19 has confirmed.

In December of 2003, Williams shocked the political world when she revealed that she was the daughter of the late senator. Her announcement came six months after his death.

Now we’re three grafs into the story, and we don’t know why the political world was shocked or why Thurmond refused to acknowledge her. There’s an entire generation that doesn’t know who Strom Thurmond was or what he did. A little history is in order here.

James Strom Thurmond (December 5, 1902 – June 26, 2003) was an American politician who was the 103rd Governor of South Carolina from 1947 until 1951 and served for 48 years as a United States Senator. He also ran for the Presidency of the United States in 1948 as the segregationist States Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrat) candidate, receiving 2.4% of the popular vote and 39 electoral votes. Thurmond represented South Carolina in the United States Senate from 1954 until 2003, at first as a Democrat and, after 1964, as a Republican. He switched because of his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, disaffection with the national party, and support for the conservatism of the Republican presidential candidate and Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater.

And most important:

In opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957, he conducted the longest filibuster ever by a lone senator, at 24 hours and 18 minutes in length, nonstop. In the 1960s, he opposed the civil rights legislation of 1964 and 1965 to end segregation and enforce the voting rights of African-American citizens. He always insisted he had never been a racist, but was opposed to excessive federal authority. He was quoted as saying that

“all the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement.”

He attributed the movement for integration to Communist agitators.

First of all, he was a racist. One of the more virulent in the 20th century.

So, why does the recent death of Essie Mae Washington Williams matter?

… because her mother was black, he never acknowledged his child’s birth to his family, friends, or the public.

So he spent his career trying to deny rights to a huge segment of the population, a segment that included his own flesh and blood. How could he have been so … evil?

Williams’s mother worked as a maid for the senator’s family in Edgefield County during the 1920s, and the two had a relationship that led to him fathering the child. Her mother was just 16 at the time.

A quick calculation. Essie Mae died at age 87, which would put the year of her birth at 1925 or 1926, depending on the month of her birth. Thurmond was born in 1902, which means he was either 23 or 24 when Essie Mae was born. Her mother was 16.

So, her mother was 16 when Essie May was born, which means her mother could have been 15 when Essie Mae was conceived. Has a law been violated?

SC.j[egMaybe it’s not rape. Maybe the girl was 16 when Thurmond got her pregnant. We won’t know, because the people involved are all dead.

But Thurmond did not pay for his sins. Here’s an excerpt from his obituary in the New York Times in 2003.

Mr. Thurmond went to the Senate in 1954, the only senator ever elected by a write-in vote. His death was announced on the floor of the Senate last night by Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader. The Senate, at work on Medicare legislation, paused for a moment of silence. Mr. Frist said Mr. Thurmond had ”a life really unmatched in public service.”

Though his long career brought him national prominence, Mr. Thurmond was better known in the Senate for looking out for South Carolina and the United States Army than for any particular legislation he sponsored. As a lieutenant colonel in an Army civil affairs unit in 1944, he landed in France by glider on D-Day and captured German soldiers at pistol point. He was awarded the Bronze Star for valor and the French Croix de Guerre.

Until his last years, Mr. Thurmond was a man of uncommon energy and legendary fitness. He neither smoked nor drank, did more pushups and sit-ups than many men decades younger and fathered children into his mid-70’s. He was also known for fondling women in Senate elevators, including a woman who turned out to be a fellow senator, much to his surprise.

He molested women in the elevators of the Senate, including another senator.

He impregnated a teenage girl who worked for his family.

He refused to publicly acknowledge his daughter, because of her race.

He worked to make sure the United States denied basic rights to a huge segment of the population.

And he was lauded on the floor of the U.S. Senate as a great public servant.

Strom Thurmond never received his comeuppance.

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One thought on “Comeuppance in fiction and in history

  1. I saw a story which said there had been an affair. This is pure bull. This was rape whether statuatory or not because Strom was the white master and she was a servant. There was an unequal power relationship there. She would not have been able to say no without risking her job.

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