Author of "Dear Senator" Visits SF State
Essie Mae Washington-Williams hosts book signing
March 19, 2006 3:22 PM
Essie Mae Washington-Williams came to SF State on March 14 to discuss her book, “Dear Senator,” which revealed the truth about her relationship with former Sen. Strom Thurmond.
In her book, Washington-Williams uncovered the fact that she is the daughter of the late senator, who was the leader of the Dixiecrat Party, which was composed of conservative Democrats who opposed racial integration during the civil rights movement. He served in the South Carolina Senate from 1933 to 1938, and was the state’s governor from 1947 to 1951. His record stands as the longest serving and oldest senator in U.S. history with 48 years at age 100, according to his biography.
Presented by the Associated Students of Performing Arts and Lectures (ASPA), Washington-Williams signed copies of the new soft-cover edition of the book, which was provided by the campus bookstore. SF State was one of the many stops in a yearlong tour around the country since the release of her controversial book on Feb. 1, 2005. Since its release, the hardcover edition of the book has sold more than 70,000 copies, according to Washington-Williams.
“Any time we have a figure that has historical relevance, and who can offer a close glimpse into government and political affairs is an enjoyable experience,” said Marcos Gama, 32, the central productions coordinator for ASPA. “It makes you think, ‘wow!’ This person has had such a profound impact on people.”
The assistant director for financial aid at SF State Lori Johnson was among the 14 people who attended the book signing in Jack Adams Hall at 2 p.m. Johnson, who read the book, said she was compelled to come and hear the author speak in person.
“It was written with no bitterness even though her father did some things that black people wouldn’t agree with,” added Johnson, 46. “You can tell that she is a teacher and a lover of history. Washington-Williams worked as a teacher for the Los Angeles School District for 27 years. “I mainly came to see her in person and to verify what I got from the book.”
The author’s mother was an African American woman named Carrie Butler, who worked as a maid for the Thurmond family and who also shared an intimate relationship with the then 23-year-old Strom Thurmond. Washington-Williams had never revealed her father’s identity to the public until the book’s release, and more than two years after her father’s death in 2003.
Washington-Williams briefly discussed the shock of meeting her father for the first time in 1938 and realizing he was white, a discrepancy her mother had failed to disclose to her prior to their introduction. Her parents loved each other but it was a relationship that could not come about because in the South it was law that the races “could not mix,” said Williams.
“Whenever anyone asked me what my relationship was to him, I would just say he was a family friend,” said Washington-Williams, 80. “I never admitted that he was my father, because it was no advantage to me. If a person is doing all he can to help you and others, you don’t do anything to hurt them or their career.”
“During the time that I met my father I was 16 and I saw him every year after that, so we had been in constant touch with each other. He was a wonderful person in spite of the fact that he was a segregationist.”
Washington-Williams is the mother of four children, and 13 grandchildren. She currently resides in Los Angeles.
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