Sunday, February 10, 2013

Deaths of Esie Mae Washington -Williams and Richard Herman Illustrate How Unknowns Reflect on America

Who are They and What Did They Do?

On Wednesday the Washington Post ran stories about the passing of Esie Mae Washington-Williams and Richard Herman, Americans whose stories are important but whose stories will be little noticed. 

(Lawrence Jackson, file/Associated Press) A 2005 photo of Essie Mae Washington-Williams, daughter of longtime segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond. She has died at the age of 87.

Ms. Washington Williams is the better know of the two, her notoriety coming from the fact that her father was staunch Segregationist and anti Civil Rights politician Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.  Mr. Thurmond’s most notable accomplishment is that he probably did more to foster racial prejudice, racial division and outright violence against African Americans than any other major national political figure.  In his later years he tried to act like he supported equality, but the ugly nasty commentary of his long political career can never be erased.  There is no question that for decades he simply detested African Americans and did everything in his political power to thwart their treatment as equal human beings.

So what else other than that is the news that makes Ms. Washington-Williams, his acknowledged daughter newsworthy?  It is this.  Ms. Washington-Williams is

Thurmond’s oldest child — born when he was a 22-year-old man and her mother, Carrie Butler, a 16-year-old black maid in his father’s house .

And let this Forum be one of the few, if any to call this what it was.  It was Rape, even if no physical force was involved.  No further commentary needed.

As for Richard Herman, he was a multi-millionaire who when he passed away did this.

Mr. Herman - A Very Nice Man

Family Matters of Greater Washington is set to hold a splashy news conference Wednesday at the National Press Club to announce that Herman, who died in November at 100, left the organization 60 percent of his vast estate — $28 million, which the group says is one of the largest gifts ever to a local social service organization.

And the Kennedy Center said Tuesday that Herman left $15 million to the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington National Opera — the largest bequest in the institution’s history.

Now we don’t know the charity Family Matters of Greater Washington, but apparently they do great work.  And yes, the $43 million was about all of Mr. Herman’s estate.  And here’s what happened when the charity learned of his generosity.

Family Matters administrators knew they were named as beneficiaries of the estate but were unaware of the extent of the gift until trust officials contacted them after Herman’s death.

“I started crying. I dropped the phone, and I fell to my knees on the ground in my office,” said Tonya Jackson Smallwood, president and chief executive of the group, which is headquartered downtown. She said she left the trust officer on the line for a good five minutes as she tried to compose herself.

Unnamed Conservatives were expected to be horrified at this news, and be angry and astounded that Mr. Herman would leave his money to the arts and to an organization that helped poor children.  They will have difficulty coming to grips with the fact that someone that wealthy would not donate all of his money to helping suppress rights or promote more tax reduction for the wealthy or fight for more pollution or promote an agenda cutting rather than supporting programs that help the needy.  

After all, Mr. Herman received much of his wealth from an inheritance, and shouldn’t that money have gone to protect other wealthy potential inheritors?  Instead Mr. Herman lived a quiet life, saving most of his capital in order to make a huge difference in other people’s lives.

 Herman was content to live within his means and let his fortune grow, family members said.

He wore the same suits for years, traveled just a few times a year and never redecorated his apartment, which frayed a bit as the years went by. He had few indulgences, except for the occasional single daiquiri and a minor flirtation with a Corvette, which largely stayed in the Watergate’s parking garage.

Conservatives would view him as a traitor to his class, the rest of us, a personification of the best of America.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program of cynicism and anger.

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