Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  381 ratings  ·  61 reviews
Breaking nearly eight decades of silence, Essie Mae Washington–Williams comes forward with a story of unique historical magnitude and incredible human drama. Her father, the late Strom Thurmond, was once the nation's leading voice for racial segregation (one of his signature political achievements was his 24–hour filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957, done in the...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published January 24th 2006 by Harper Perennial (first published January 25th 2005)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Dear Senator, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Dear Senator

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankThe Glass Castle by Jeannette WallsI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya AngelouEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth GilbertPersepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Memoirs by Women
180th out of 1,251 books — 1,658 voters
Pride and Prejudice by Jane AustenTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeJane Eyre by Charlotte BrontëThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Jezebel's Books All Women Should Read
418th out of 522 books — 1,037 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 826)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Hmmm. On the one hand, this book has some relevance as a memoir and an historical document. Incidents such as the one involving Strom Thurmond and Carrie Butler were not uncommon across the South, and there were/are many like the author who were/are either the results of such unions, or have heard stories about such. The fact that she is bringing the events of her life to prominence is notable in itself. However, her reaction to and attitude concerning these events are problematic, and this is w...more
Donna Bennett
Jan 06, 2013 Donna Bennett rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Donna by: Discussion Group
This book is Essie Mae’s story and a living historic chronicle of the life and times intertwined with her real life situation. Williams's story can be viewed as a tragedy of the American south with its unenlightened prejudices and hypocrisies; but it also can be viewed as a story of family ties, of love and honor. Her restraint and respect for her father in an ugly period of our history--one that included segregation, racism and Jim Crow is incredible, which help to mitigate the harsh realities...more
Like most people, I was rather disgusted at the posthumous revelation of notorious racist Strom Thurmond's illegitimate daughter.

Like many I doubted that in Jim Crow South of the 20's & 30's that her mother an underage African American girl financially dependent on the family could actually have a relationship of equals with Strom. Like many I assumed there was probably some coercion (finanical if not physical force).
I also assumed that he paid the daughter to keep his hypocrisy quiet.

A memoir full of conflicting feelings and actions told with amazing personal grace. Strom Thurmond was the longest serving Senator when he retired at the age of 100, and easily one of the most controversial figures over the course of his career. Many remember him as a staunch segregationist. Which makes the circumstances of this book all the more confounding - the author is his daughter, who was the product of an affair he had as a very young man with his family's black maid. Essie Mae grew up i...more
2.5 stars I wanted to give this more stars, because I wanted to like it more. Maybe I was expecting too much, or maybe I was just put off by the writing, but it just didn't resonate with me the way I thought it would.

I think I was expecting more honesty, frustration, anger, disappointment - emotion - than what the reader gets. It couldn't have been easy for her, having her world turned upside-down one lazy afternoon, and then watching it get flipped inside out when she's told her father is white...more
I wasn't sure I wanted to read this book. In general, I avoid the pain of reading about slavery and Jim Crow. And as a black woman raised in South Carolina, the revelation of Essie Mae's existence was not news to me. I grew up with the knowledge that Strom Thurmond had a daughter (actually, the rumor was that he had numerous children) by a black woman. As the first African American police officer in Columbia, my grandfather claimed to have directly witnessed Strom Thurmond's amorous forays into...more
I liked the book. It provided a refresher on some important history. The memoir was a little repetitive and shallow. The extent of Essie Mae Washington's self reflection and analysis was repeating and accepting that she wanted to be included--publicy and otherwise--in Strom's life, but she understood why she couldn't. In the end, of course, her existance did become public. But I was looking for a little more introspection into what it meant for her to be bi-racial, bi-cultural. She talked about...more
Dan Quigley
Jun 27, 2014 Dan Quigley rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: South Carolina Midlands residents
I found this memoir to be extremely interesting. No fiction writer could have dreamed of all the plot twists this story of complex characters living through difficult times portrays. I love the honest and straightforward way Essie Mae tells her story, then how she backs away from making the moral judgements so that the reader can decide alone who was in the right.

All of the main people portrayed in this book are done so as complex characters. I can see why some (many?) African-Americans would r...more
Nandi Crawford
To say upon hearing that Strom Thurmond had an African American illegitimate daughter was simply mind boggling. How can you say you want rights for only one set of people yet in your private life do another? seem contradictary to me and I was glad that the author brought it up as well in her book. As far back as the late 1940s when the author was attending South Carolina State College,(paid of course by her father), Ebony has known about the story of this woman, but not until after Senator Thurm...more
Well this book was certainly an interesting story, and it did give some unique insight into a side of Strom Thurmond of which I was unaware. It seemed like the author struggled, admittedly so, with her opinions of her father. On one hand she deplored his politics, and hated how he never officially acknowledged her or that she was his daughter. On the other hand, she consistently looked for reasons to excuse his racist ideologies.

Other than that, the writing was not great, it was very colloquial....more
I found the author's story fascinating and sad. She showed such character through her very complicated childhood and then adulthood. I have to admit that I was surprised by the support and tenderness that Senator Thurmond showed his "secret daughter", albeit behind closed doors. In some ways it makes his racist policy-making even more despicable. I couldn't help but wonder if Essie Mae had been born today, a more open relationship with her father might have been possible. I guess I always assume...more
This was a quick read. It was amazing to me that the secret lived on for over 60 years. Essie Mae is very clear that she kept the secret, especially after Strom Thurmond became an extreme racist and white supremecist. He did help her financially but never acknowledged her as his daughter, although there were several times when Essie Mae was able to feel how much he loved her mother. A very sad story of how attitudes in the south controlled three people's lives.
I was disappointed in Ms. Washington-Williams's interview on 60 minutes when this story broke, as she seemed very protective and defensive of Strom. She redeems herself in this book. This book reads like a who's who of South Carolina racist politics. It will make me look twice into the namesakes of the roads, schools, establishments, etc. in the towns that surround me here in South Carolina. Highly recommended reading.
Mary Frances
An interesting read. I find nothing to admire about Strom Thurmond, but this book at least humanized him a bit. What I think is more interesting is the author's view of her father- hurt and yet strangely admiring. As a window into a life formed before the progress of the civil rights movement, it fascinated me. Nit terrifically well-written, but still worth a read.
Wow! This lady has done her research on South Carolina history and made her story of being the rather unacknowledged daughter of former Senator Strom Thurmond a winner. Race relations would be improved if everyone read this book.
John Wood
One of the most prominent Southern politicians and segregationists in American history, Strom Thurmond, has a relationship with a slave culminating in the birth of a daughter. Finally, his daughter shares her story. This incredible story offers insights into not only Essie Mae Washington-Williams and her personal life but also delivers a unique view into American history and politics as it relates to race. We gain a good exploration of the history and Southern viewpoints. Essie Mae doesn't just...more
I am thankful to the late Mrs. Washington-Williams for undertaking the difficult task of allowing us to glimpse her life.

We all have our own issues to deal with our lifetimes. Some are worse than others. I know my own and can only imagine those that lie deep within others, so deep that they dare not share with anyone.

I respect the anguish and turmoil that the author shared, as well as her joys.

What is it like to learn that the people you thought were your parents are not?

How is a woman's psyche...more
Essie Mae Washington-Williams passed away last week, therefore when I saw this book on the library shelf, I knew that it was time to finally read her memoirs. Honestly I cannot remember a time, when I didn't know the name Strom Thurmond. South Carolina is my home, and therefore Strom Thurmond(good or bad) is a part of my story as a South Carolinian.
The dignity and grace that Ms. Washington showed Mr. Thurmond throughout his life, and then after his death, illuminates her as a person of quality a...more
Essie Mae was the illegitimate daughter of Strom Thurmond and in his lifetime he never publicly claimed a relationship to her. She and her mother respected his desire for public secrecy and took advantage of any chance to connect with him privately. I was angry at the hypocritical ethics of Strom Thurmond. I was also amazed to discover that he led a long and prosperous political career. Maybe that shouldn't have amazed me given the aforementioned ethics... It was definitely an interesting story...more
Cathy Dewitt
What a story and what a lady; Essie Mae Washington. The strength and personal fortitude this women showed during her life and the respect and love she had for her father was inspiring. Wonderful reading about an amazing women and her father.
Matthew Moes
I really enjoyed reading this book for the insights it offers into the complex role of race and relationships in the United States. This touching memoir humanizes Strom Thurmond, the man who ran for President against Harry Truman with the Dixiecrats against civil rights. But more importantly, Williams offers great inspiration in her own account of growing up and overcoming her circumstances as the secret daughter of one the South's most significant contemporary leaders. More intriguing is the gr...more
When the story broke just after Thurmond's death of his illegitimate black daughter, I knew I needed to read more about it.

This book details the complicated relationship between Thurmond and his other family. It's also the story of the South--warts and all. I'm not sure exactly what I expected, but it was much more engaging and tied wonderfull to the larger story of the 20th century south. Thurmond continues to be a fascinating (if strange) politician, and he's someone that historians will retur...more
Very good read. Tackles racism from the perspective of a mixed-race daughter, the daughter of a beautiful black woman and a handsome white man. Essie Mae's story is fascinating because most of it occurs before Brown VS The Board of Education and the Civil Rights Movement's successes. She addresses the issues of being a child of an interracial union during this racially segregated and hostile time. Essie Mae was a school teacher for 40 years and she most definitely knows how to write--I was extre...more
The book contained much about the frustration of growing up black and the way Thurmond talked out of both sides of his mouth. However the story did not pull me in and emotionally I felt out of the events. Good history book.
What a great life! I love the in-depth historical context and observations she provides. I learned so much from this book. Not just about Strom Thurmond and Essie Mae Washington-Williams but about The South and South Carolina and New York and Pennsylvania; the political history of the country and the origination of the 'states' rights' argument among many other things. Essie Mae was an exceptional person and solely because of this book and her story will I also admit that Strom Thurmond may not...more
Foster Dickson
While this was an interesting enough story, and an important one in the context of Southern history, it was really dull to read. I'll be honest that I stopped reading it midway through. The abundance of mundane information and the simple elaboration of her feelings without any action to counterbalance could not stand up as a meaningful plot. I'm glad this book was written and published, but as a "good read," it lacked a lot. I was forcing myself to keep reading it . . . and I was genuinely intri...more
I read this book 4 years ago and as I start to write this review, I become angry all over again.

Talk about "talking out of two sides of your mouth"!

A white man (who much later becomes a senator from the South), has a relationship with a black woman that works for his family. Fathers a child but doesn't want anyone to know.

I can only give him kudos for taking care of his child financially.

We all have the potential to change but I wonder how far we really do?

Read this book and tell me what you thi...more
Erika Hoogesteger
This is my absolute favorite book of all time. Essie Mae Washington-Williams is a role model to all women, of all races, creeds, cultures. This woman was rejected by her father in so many terrible ways and she persevered. She did not harbor ill feelings, it was what it was and she went on with her life. Other women would have become angry and bitter but Essie Mae Washington-Williams chose grace. I am so lucky (blessed) to have had the opportunity to read her story.
A story well-told, without bitterness at a ver unfair situation! The candid sstor of Essie Mae, daughter of Strom Thurmond, and her struggle with the knowledge of her parenthood, while having to keep it secret, is a very sad and disturbing tale of our times, or at least, the times I lived in. But also her spirit and faith , and that fact that ultimately the truth came out, give the book a very satisfying conclusion.
Carol Baldwin
I truly appreciated the honesty with which Essie Mae Washington-Williams shared her life, her loyalty, and her secrets. I have excerpted this book over a series of seven blogs. You can see them all listed here: Excellent read for someone trying to understand the intricate complexities of a multi-cultural identity in the Jim Crow South.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 27 28 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Secret Daughter: A Mixed-Race Daughter and the Mother Who Gave Her Away
  • The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White
  • Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America
  • The Prisoner's Wife: A Memoir
  • Sweeter the Juice: A Family Memoir in Black and White
  • A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School
  • The Black Rose
  • This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer
  • Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black
  • Foxy: My Life in Three Acts
  • Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany
  • Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line
  • One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life--A Story of Race and Family Secrets
  • American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama
  • Three Negro Classics
  • The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful, and (HIV) Positive
  • Redemption Song
  • The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White
Dear Senator

Share This Book