In my racially diverse circle of friends, the news that the Rev. Al Sharpton and S.C.’s former senior senior senator Strom Thurmond might be kin was greeted with reactions varying from snickering to derision to eye-rolling to, “Every time this damn state is in the news it’s for somethin’ stupid!” to outright disbelief to finally one extended side-grabbing-fall-on-the-floor belly laugh.

While visiting the plantation in Edgefield, S.C. where Julia Thurmond lived and owned his forefathers, Sharpton was given a horseshoe found in the slave quarters by the current property owner and told the Associated Press that all African-Americans should investigate family history despite “the ugly things it might reveal.”

“As painful as it is, it’s good that it comes out so we can deal with it,” said Sharpton.

Sharpton also said he’d submit to DNA testing to see if there was a blood link between himself and the Thurmonds.

Well, this prompted a response from Strom’s eldest child, Essie Mae Washington-Williams. For those of y’all who just moved here from Ohio, Essie Mae is the daughter of Strom and Carrie Butler, an African-American maid in Thurmond’s parents home.

Washington-Williams was raised in Pennsylvania by an aunt and uncle and did not know who her father was until her mother took her to meet Thurmond, then a judge, in 1941, when she was 16 years old.

Thurmond never publicly acknowledged his daughter, but supported her financially through S.C. State University and throughout her adult life in California. Her name is listed with Strom’s children from his second marriage on a monument to him that stands on the S.C. Statehouse grounds.

Anyhoo, Washington-Williams addressed reporters at a book signing at the Columbia Marriott Hotel on Feb. 27 and had plenty to say about the Reverend’s beating-o’-breast and rending-o’-shirt concerning his parentage (real and imagined).

She said in The State, “He’s been on TV constantly saying many negative things that [Thurmond] did, and to me, that was an overreaction … But because Strom Thurmond had been a public figure, a person who spoke out, I think that’s why he felt so strongly about him.”

Although he never apologized for his public past, Strom Thurmond modified his positions on race because he was smart enough to recognize the prevailing political winds for what they were.

Sharpton responded, “She has a right to disagree.”

Uh, Al, howzabout she has the moral authority to disagree with you?

Washington-Williams also said that if DNA testing proved a blood tie, she had no idea what the Thurmond family’s reaction would be, “I have no control over that … ‘Welcome to the fold’.”

Sharpton told The State that his situation was much different from Washington-Williams, “One grew out of a relationship that was personal and private and one that is ownership.”

Uh-huh — just what in tarnation is that supposed to mean, Al?

It seems to me that Sharpton is more interested in renewing his celebrity meal ticket than he is in learning about “who we are” and why the abiding legacy of cruelty that is peculiar to the slavery continues to color race relations in South Carolina in particular and the rest of the country at large.

Pouring gasoline on the fire of racism is how the Sharpton has defined his public life and he doesn’t apologize for it any more than Strom Thurmond ever did.

South Carolina has enough real problems without this opportunist showing up and inventing yet another controversy without first checking the record.

Go back to New York, Al!

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