I`m sure you were as shocked,
shocked as I was to learn that the late Strom
Thurmond, who retired from the U.S. Senate early this
year at the age of 100, fathered an illegitimate child,
with a black woman, when he was 22, almost four score
Not! Actually, my initial reaction
question was: "Only one?"
Thurmond was always known as a man
like any other man, only more so … much more so. Back in
1968, when he decided it was time to stop
sowing wild oats and settle down, the 66-year-old
Senator married the 22-year-old Miss South Carolina and
The day after Pearl Harbor, Thurmond
turned in his judge`s robe and joined the Army. On
D-Day, at the age of 41, he landed his glider behind
Nazi lines. Eventually, he won 18 medals.
As Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
told the Senate last year,
"…I was there at the 50th anniversary of
Normandy. There was a huge celebration of the
Members of Congress who had participated… But, there was
one Senator missing… Strom Thurmond, who was 92 at the
time, missed the 50th anniversary because that was the
weekend of his son`s graduation from high school."
I wouldn`t be terribly surprised if there are several
58-year-old people in France who look a lot like Strom
Thurmond`s last major initiative
was to get his 28-year-old son
Strom Jr., only three years out of law school,
appointed the top federal prosecutor for the state of
South Carolina—a post
denied to Strom Sr.`s father by President
Woodrow Wilson back 1915.
This set off history`s first
controversy over whether the son of a 100-year-old man
was too young for his job.
wrote of meeting "South Carolina`s most
indestructible ladies` man" when Strom was 96:
"It was the first day of the Clinton impeachment trial
and, in a chaotic melee by the lifts, I was suddenly
pushed forward and thrown between Thurmond and
California Senator Barbara Boxer. Ol` Strom had just
cast an appreciative bipartisan eye over the petite
brunette liberal extremist. Ms Boxer gave an involuntary
shudder. I`d been squashed between the two for about
five seconds when I became aware of a strange tickling
sensation on my elbow. Glancing down, I was horrified to
see an unusually large lizard slithering up and down my
arm. On closer inspection, it proved to be Strom`s hand.
Presumably he`d mistaken my dainty elbow for Barbara`s,
but who knows?"
You`ve gotta be one helluva man to be unable to keep
your hands off Barbara Boxer.
exactly a state secret that Thurmond had an illegitimate
daughter by an African-American woman. What was
surprising was to find out was how well Thurmond had
treated his daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams. He
even visited her at college when he was
governor of South Carolina in the 1940s—presumably
at some political risk. They continued to get together
annually. Her attorney, Los
Angeles entertainment lawyer Frank Wheaton, told
CBS that Thurmond paid her support throughout her entire
life and the sum was "`very substantial,`
but less than $1 million."
Washington-Williams appears to have enjoyed a productive
and pleasant life, inheriting her father`s famously
robust health, becoming a schoolteacher, marrying a
having "four children,
13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren."
Now, all this probably
strikes you as just adding to the National Comedy, in
which Ol` Strom played such a long-running role. Oddly,
though, it has become the fashion following Thurmond`s
party last December that celebrated both his 100th
birthday and his retirement from the Senate—a
transcendently improbable combination—to speak of his
Very, Very Seriously.
During his well-lubricated
speech at that unique affair, Senate Majority Leader
Trent Lott joked about Thurmond never missing a Hooter`s
opening; recommended that the centenarian replace Bob
Dole`s dog in that Pepsi commercial where he (the dog)
wants to hump Britney Spears` leg; and suggested that
we`d be better off if the guest of honor had been
elected President in 1948.
The bipartisan crowd received
these assertions with the solemnity with which they were
offered. Eventually, however, several
arbiters of the
Righteous Right, such as
David Frum and
Andrew Sullivan, decided that one of Lott`s
throwaway compliments was the Worst Thing Ever Said in
the History of the World. And so Lott was forced to
resign from his post as Bob Dole`s dog. Or something
For example, the
Washington Post`s columnist
Colbert King, a dark-skinned African-American sore
about the discrimination he suffered at hands of such as
Mrs. Washington-Williams—who belonged to a
sorority favoring applicants who could pass the
"paper-bag test" of skin color—used the incident
to make clear his deeply-felt view that
light-skinned African-Americans should not exist.
and white Americans are so deeply entangled by blood
that racial categories have become meaningless. When
discussing the issue in public, I typically offer my own
family as an example. … I told an audience not long ago,
`I am as `white` as anyone in this room.`"
getting tangled in these emotions, let me just offer
some hard data from a UPI
series I wrote last year.
Mark D. Shriver`s team of population researchers at
Penn State University has examined DNA samples from
3,000 individuals in 25 locations around America,
looking for the gene markers that tend to differ between
Europeans and Africans. Preliminary conclusions suggest
an average of some 17-18 percent white ancestry among
African-Americans. That`s the equivalent of saying that,
among the 128 great-great-great-great-great-grandparents
ancestors of every modern American black, living some
200 years ago, 106 were Africans and 22 were Europeans
Brent Staples, only about 10 percent of modern
African-Americans are over 50 percent white. And the
average black admixture among whites is only 0.7
percent. That`s the equivalent of having, among your 128
great etc. grandparents, 127 whites and one black. It
appears that 70 percent of whites have no African
ancestors at all. Among the 30 percent who do, the black
admixture is around 2.3 percent, which would be like
having about three black ancestors out of those 128.
words, American whites are pretty, well, white.
Shriver`s data suggests that well over 90 percent of
the African genes in Americans are still found in people
who call themselves black.
contrary to popular ideas about steamy nights of
miscegenation on the old plantation (as in The Rolling
"Brown Sugar" and the
movie "Mandingo"), African-Americans in the rural
South are the least admixed with whites.
African-American populations with the highest average
numbers of white ancestors are those on the West Coast.
They average a little over one-quarter European
ancestry. In contrast, according to a
recent article published by Shriver`s team in the
American Journal of Physical Anthropology, the Gullahs
of the long-isolated Sea Islands of South Carolina and
Georgia, who are famous for speaking a pleasantly
African-sounding dialect, are only 3-4 percent white. In
the rest of the rural South, African-Americans tend to
be not as black as the Gullahs, but still blacker than
the national average. Shriver`s team found that the
white admixture percentage in four Lowland farm counties
in South Carolina was 12 percent.
This puts in
context the common assertion is that "all
white men in the South participated in
miscegenation" and that miscegenation is “part of
the South`s history.” We can use the genetic data to
assess whether Ol` Strom was indeed a man like any other
man—or whether he was more so.
some back-of-an-envelope calculations.
Shriver`s team has found DNA
evidence that the influx of white genes was fairly
constant over the centuries. From that, we can roughly
estimate the fraction of African-American women`s babies
who were fathered by white men (assuming all the
admixture was from white man-black woman matings, which
isn`t true, but it`s close enough).
If miscegenation has been going on
for, say, 300 years, that`s 12 generations. If
African-Americans are 18 percent white, you can divide
by 12 generations to get a 1.5 percent influx of white
genes per generation.
Multiply that by two to get the
male contribution, and you come up with this estimate:
on average, three percent of African-American women`s
babies were fathered by white men—about one out of 33.
This is a very rough estimate, but it`s probably in the
If the ratio of whites to blacks in
the South was, say, three to one, and the birthrates and
death rates of blacks and whites were similar, then only
about one out of 100 babies fathered by white men were
with African-American mothers.
This estimate is very rough. But
the real number probably isn`t more than, say, three
times greater (or smaller).
By no means did all white Southern
men, or even most of them, participate in miscegenation.
But, of course, there was a cumulative effect over the
And because the African-American
population was only a fraction of the white population,
the impact on individual African-Americans was about
three times greater. That is to say,
relatively few white men were involved in
miscegenation, but that was enough to make a difference
to a fair number of African-American family histories.
Which contributes to the two races` different
perspectives on the magnitude of the phenomenon.
it appears that about three percent to 8 percent of all
modern Mexicans` ancestors were black Africans—which, as
I`ve shown, is about half the American population`s
percentage. But miscegenation in Mexico was so extensive
that people of clearly African descent have
blended in almost completely.
Strom Thurmond was an exceptional man, in more ways
than two or three. But we already knew that.
[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and