2.26.2007

"the past is not dead. in fact, it's not even past."

Al Sharpton - US politician, activist and civil rights leader - has learned that his great-grandfather was a slave owned by the family of the late US Senator Strom Thurmond.

This just blew me away.

Although Sharpton is known nationally and internationally, he's a New Yorker. We New Yorkers watched his several transformations, from minister/performer/civil rights activist/loud-mouthed buffoon and back again. No matter what his outer image, Sharpton has always stood on the side of justice. In recent years, he's evolved into a clear, steadfast voice for the working class and the poor, for peace, and for sanity. And what would we have done without him during the Giuliani years?

From the New York Times:
The results of the investigation, pieced together from census documents, slave narratives and birth and marriage registries, were unveiled yesterday in The Daily News, with the front-page headline, "Shock of My Life!"

"In the story of the Thurmonds and the Sharptons is the story of the shame and the glory of America," Mr. Sharpton said at a news conference at the office of The Daily News yesterday, with the older of his two daughters, Dominique, standing behind him.

"The shame is that people were owned as property, and the shame is that I'm the heir of those who were property to the Thurmond family," he said. "The glory is that Strom Thurmond ran for president in 1948 on a segregationist ticket; I ran in '04 on a ticket for racial justice, and that shows what America can become, if you’re determined to beat" discrimination.

Mr. Sharpton said he had not heard from the Thurmonds and had no immediate plans of contacting them. "This is not family," he said firmly. "This is property."

Great answer.

The movement of African Americans to uncover their slave ancestry is relatively recent and, as I understand it, still pretty rare. I can well understand the reluctance. What a thing to come face to face with.

Senator Thurmond, as you probably know, was a staunch segregationist, a wingnut, and a walking cadaver whose continued existence gave credence to the belief that the good die young. And of course, he was a raving hypocrite. A woman named Essie Mae Washington-Williams, the daughter of the Thurmond family's maid, waited until the senator was dead to publicly acknowledge that she was his daughter.

* * * *

The title of this post is from William Faulkner, who knew a thing or two about the past, and about slavery. It's one of my favourite quotations.

New York Daily News exclusive here.

8 comments:

redsock said...

Fuckin' A.

If you go back 10 or 11 generations, Moron and I share a relative. (Naturally, so do millions of other people.)

While not nearly as noteworthy as Sharpton's news, I remain somewhat ashamed. Or I want my cut of the war profits. One or the other.

L-girl said...

Fuckin' A.

Fuckin' A indeed. It's an astounding coincidence.

While not nearly as noteworthy as Sharpton's news, I remain somewhat ashamed. Or I want my cut of the war profits. One or the other.

No need for shame. You say I shouldn't feel ashamed of the lunatics in my family only one generation back, why should you feel shame over 10 generations ago?

War profits would be nice. We could donate them to peace groups, and help fund the underground railroad of war resisters.

loneprimate said...

War profits would be nice. We could donate them to peace groups, and help fund the underground railroad of war resisters.

Or perhaps to the Iraqi people whose blood was the straw from which the gold was spun.

L-girl said...

Or perhaps to the Iraqi people whose blood was the straw from which the gold was spun.

Oh yes, even better. We could buy prosthetics (for Iraqis, Americans and Brits alike), rebuild homes and schools, fund hospitals...

Alas, we won't be receiving a cheque any time soon. But at least we're not helping to fund it anymore. We are very relieved about that.

redsock said...

I'd buy an RV.

L-girl said...

Hmmm. OK, how about we donate some and then get the Winnebago?

Oh by the way, we're not actually getting any money because an ancestor of yours is also an ancestor of the Resident's.

Ferdzy said...

Well, "All men are brothers" is religious doctine. "All people are cousins" is simply a statement of scientific fact.

Actually, what I reallllllly loved about this story was a quote from some dim-witted niece of Strom Thurmonds, and I flipped my lid a bit about it at my blog.

Did you see that quote? It was hysterrible. (And yes, I just made that word up.)

L-girl said...

"All people are cousins" is simply a statement of scientific fact.

Maybe so, but we rarely meet our distant cousins on these terms.

Did you see that quote?

I'll be right over to let you know!

Hysterrible - love it!!