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Already: Story Of The Decade

Strom's secret revealed


In a few days, it'll begin. Print, radio, Internet, and TV will start running those "big stories of 2003" specials and lists, designed to make us realize how fast another year has spun out of control before we move on to our next self-induced attack of multi-tasking.

In Charlotte, we have one pro sports team winning and another taking shape, a longtime city councilwoman getting ousted by voters, and a school system in need of PR ("Two guns? 12 guns? Whatever."). Oh, and a high school principal's mysterious assault.

Nationally, the big story has been about getting our war on in Iraq, tanks rolling toward Baghdad in a sandy swirl, culminating in a mug shot better than Michael Jackson's: Saddam Hussein himself, bearded, dirty, and being examined like Uncle Sam's prize heifer before the 4-H show, a murderous spider plucked from his "spider hole."

But for my two cents, the worst-kept secret in South Carolina emerges as a story that has made me think, think twice, then cast the Hollywood movie in my head. How about titling it The Senator's Daughter? The revelation that the late Sen. Strom Thurmond fathered a daughter by his family's 16-year-old black maid is one for the ages. The legendary segregationist and one-time Dixiecrat was also a class-one hypocrite, which many had thought all along. "Sperm Thermos" was but one wisecrack about his other propensity: old Goatdom when around the opposite sex. So just imagine the first meeting between 30-something Strom, Jr. and his half-sister, 78-year-old Essie Mae Washington-Williams, who has kept her secret for 62 years, as did her father. Pass the Jim Crow, please.

The questions this raises and the themes it touches on cut through the New South, which is always struggling against regional bias and past racial sins. Was Essie's mother raped? There are no signs it was a romance. Would the senator have denied his paternity if Williams had revealed the truth sooner? And if it had been made public, would that have changed Thurmond's racist views and actions in the 50s and 60s? Those were not tabloid times.

For her part, Williams appears to be a soft-spoken, dignified woman, who apparently wants to finally tell her truth. In this story, she'll end up changing her father's place in history much more, even as she claims her own.

Stay tuned, and happy holidays.

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