Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tangled webs of Southern ways

"In the story of the Thurmonds and the Sharptons is the story of the shame and the glory of America."
That's the most sensible thing I think I've ever heard Al Sharpton say. For one reason or another, he volunteered to have is genealogy researched by some folks at Ancestry.com for an article. His comment was made in response to finding out that his great-grandfather was owned by Strom Thurmond's family. Um, wow.

For those of you unaware, our friend Strom was an ardent segregationist back during the 40's and 50's when white Southerners were still Democrats and black people were still Republicans. When said Thurman died four years ago at 100-years-old, the daughter of his former housekeeper--having kept with the fine Southern tradition of keeping secrets--finally revealed that Strom was in fact her father. Did I mention that her mother was black?! [I think that was the biggest WTH of 2003. The girl was 16 when she gave birth. Strom was 22.]

So as the story goes, Sharpton's great-grandad, his wife and children, were owned by a rich Edgefield County (SC) slave owner. He gave them to his son who had married one Julia Ann Thurmond, Strom Thurmond's first cousin twice removed. [Why yes, there is a chart!]

I've always found genealogy and the like extremely fascinating but it's all the more interesting to see how recently blatant inhumane behavior was passed off as both normal and necessary here in our own country. For all America's posturing as human rights watchdogs and defenders of democracy, there is still tremendous resistance to facing the past, acknowledging that like The Holocaust, it did really happen--brutality against Americans was enacted by other Americans, socially justified and legally sanctioned. How can anyone not find that frightening?

It is frightening not just because the darkness of human nature observes no bounds, but because continued failure to acknowledge its existence permits its proliferation. Complacency is complicity.

So here's to "the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners." Keep it real y'all.

3 comments:

Susania said...

It's the sort of bizarre coincidence that no one would find plausible in a novel or a movie... but as a result, it does more to make you think deeply about where we've come from. It also makes me glad in seeing how horrible events will eventually be redeemed by God - that the descendant of slaves and the descendant of his family's enslavers could be political players on the same stage. And there's no doubt which of the two history will praise and respect!

Tohou Lidia said...

Wow! That's so interesting! I especially agree with your third last paragraph which draws alot of parallels to Australia's relations with Indigenous people. We have a government who wants to present practical solutions to Indigenous people and turns it's nose up at little things like saying "sorry" for blatant human rights abuses in the past. But the past is also becoming the present as the government peddles back Indigenosu rights. I guess this happens with African Americans as well? Moreso than the coverup, i hate the ideology that says everything bad happenned in the past (such as slavery and segregation) but yet there is no acknowledgement that discrimination is still happening in the present!

Sakari said...

I find it interesting to speculate what would have been different if Carrie Butler, the mother of Strom Thurmond's illegitimate daughter, had been white. Like, would Thurmond really have married a 16-year old housemaid even if she was not black?