We Are Family: Strom Thurmond & Al Sharpton

The Daily News springs a you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me on us as Black History Month (est. 1976) wraps up:

In a revelation that will stun the nation, the Rev. Al Sharpton, one of America’s most powerful black leaders, has unearthed a shattering family secret – his ancestors were slaves owned by relatives of the late South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond.

Had this been discovered prior to the 2003 death of Thurmond, the anti-civil rights South Carolina senator who served for no less than 50 years, might Sharpton have talked some sense into Uncle Strom? Just kidding, kinda. The stories of Thurmond’s legacy of bigotry and before that slavery that have emerged since his 2003 death open up doors on just how ugly America once was — and how many of the values and ideals from the days of slavery continue to be passed down through generations.

Let’s not forget. Thurmond launched his political career with a run for president as a third-party segregationist candidate in 1948 — and actually picked up 36 electoral votes. (Trent Lott was famously forced to resign as Senate Minority leader after blogs circulated the “what if Strom won” comments he made at Thurmond’s 100th birthday party). Nine years later, he led the longest filibuster in Senate history — in opposition to the 1957 Civil Rights Act.

The reaction on the Thurmond side has ranged from shock and disbelief to flat-out denial. No word from the Reverend’s camp Rev. Sharpton told the media earlier today: “It was probably the most shocking thing in my life.” Either way, it’s a good way to raise the topic of slavery for discussion and it’s a great PR windfall for Ancestry.com, the geneaology-tracking Web site that funded the study that produced these hard-to-believe results.

UPDATE: Sharpton explains in an LA Times Op-Ed:

Every day from now on, when I write my name, I will think about how I got that name. I will think about how Al Sharpton, the white slave owner, sent my family to Strom Thurmond’s relatives to work off Thurmond debts. America’s shame is that I am the heir of those who were property to the Thurmond family.


UPDATE 2: Slate has the original documents.

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