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Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond
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Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  693 ratings  ·  87 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)
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3.90  · 
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 ·  693 ratings  ·  87 reviews

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Jan 10, 2013 rated it did not like it
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 On the one hand, this book has some relevance as a memoir and an historical document.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
* kyrat
Jul 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Like most people, I was shocked 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 others 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.

Donna Bennett
Aug 26, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Steve Piacente
Jul 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As the first reporter to see Strom Thurmond after the death of his 22-year-old daughter in 1993, I got a different look at the one-time presidential candidate who vowed there weren’t enough “troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down Segregation and admit the Negro race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches.”

We met that day in his Senate office. He was coming off cataract surgery and, combined with Nancy Moore Thurmond’s death at the
Apr 10, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 04, 2014 rated it liked it
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
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
David Ward
Apr 02, 2016 rated it liked it
Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond by Essie Mae Washington-Williams (Regan Books 2005) (Biography). Strom Thurmond was a powerful U.S. Senator from South Carolina and a former governor of the state as well. He was a senior statesman in the battle against civil rights in the South. He died at the age of one hundred in 2003. He was married twice; he married at the age of forty-four and was widowed thirteen years later. He and his first wife had no children. Thurmond married f ...more
May 22, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Aug 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
Paints a surprisingly complex portrait of a man I always assumed hated black people.
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.
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
Many would likely take Essie Mae's husband's side regarding how she kept secret her relationship to Sen. Strom Thurmond, given the senator's political stance. But she relates her story and experience in a way that helped me appreciate the very emotionally and culturally complex situation she was in. It cannot have been easy to be relegated to the sidelines as your biological father ascended the political ladder to greater heights ("greater" in the sense of going beyond being a small-town lawyer, ...more
Oct 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was about Strom Thurmond, a strict segregationist who fathered a daughter with a black woman and never acknowledged her publicly, even though he met with her secretly and gave her money for herself and her family over the years. Even when he had his own family, he continued to see his daughter "on the side", lest his political career would have been ruined. What a hypocrite. Still, it was good to see how she dealt with it. I would have sung like a canary.
Mar 13, 2009 rated it liked it
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.
May 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Friends
Wow, how do you live with the secret that your father is one of the most Racist men in America and you are his mixed race daughter. How do you establish a relationship, long for the love and attention that only a father can give a daughter. How do you tell friends and your husband this is the man who's bloodline you carry. great read.
Mary Frances
Dec 13, 2013 rated it liked it
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.
Oct 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Oct 07, 2017 rated it liked it
I purchased this book years ago and finally decided to read it. It is interesting to read the thoughts of Strom Thurmond's daughter. Essie Mae Washington-Williams didn't know or meet her father until she was 16 years old which was in 1941. Her life always had unexpected curves: she was raised by her grandparents who she thought were her parents and that her birth mother was her aunt.
Despite all these unusual, traumatic life experiences Essie Mae survived . When reading this memoir, one has to s
Feb 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In reading Dear Senator, I was amazed by Ms. Williams' poise and grace. I don't think many people can honestly say they would keep such a secret for so many years without harboring hatred and/or resentment. Neither of those attributes can been seen in Ms. Williams.
I think it's important to acknowledge events for what it is, without my personal opinion of what really happened. Whether or not Sen. Thurmond & Ms. Butler's relationship was consensual, why Ms. Williams is protective of her fathe
Jun 16, 2008 rated it liked it
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
John Wood
Jul 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Jul 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Essie Mae Washington-Williams' courageous memoir is as powerful as it is emotional. What made this a phenomenal read is that Mrs. Williams raises the same questions most of us would raise, yet she is dignified and on some level, seems to share an understanding with her now-late father.

Although the two never did forge a traditional father-daughter relationship, the history and intricacies of her story are a priceless addition to the historical achieves of the United States in general.

Her life is
I Be Reading
Sep 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was fairly good, although in a weird way, I wish it was written by someone other than Mrs. Williams because I think an outsider might be more honest about this whole situation. She seemed to challenge her father on his extremely racist viewpoints once or twice, but she also definitely left a lot of things unsaid or chose not to discuss them at all in order to maintain the relationship (and possibly the financial benefits). She was also a woman of a certain era and perhaps it’s unrealistic t ...more
Apr 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book surprised me by keeping my interest. I found myself feeling good and bad for Essie. Shocked about thurmond but still not "feeling" any of his actions. I would say I like this book more because she gave me a deep look at history in South Carolina which somewhat explains the actions today. When she quoted " she is every much as white as she is black" I loved that. It's true even though the world viewed her as black as with all biracial children. She didn't struggle with identity crisis. ...more
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