Published: February 5, 2013

  • Essie Mae Washington-Williams, who lived for decades with a stunning secret — that she was the interracial daughter of Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, a former segregationist who never acknowledged her publicly as his child — died Monday in a nursing home near Columbia, S.C. She was 87.

Tami Chappell/Reuters

Essie Mae Washington-Williams with her daughter Wanda in 2003.


Lou Krasky/Associated Press

Strom Thurmond never publicly acknowledged that he was Ms. Washington-Williams’s father.

Her death was confirmed by her lawyer, Frank K. Wheaton.

Six months after her father died at age 100 as the longest-serving senator in history, Ms. Washington-Williams broke her silence.

“My father’s name was James Strom Thurmond,” she said at a news conference in a hotel ballroom in Columbia on Dec. 17, 2003.

She said she had remained silent out of respect for Mr. Thurmond, his career and the rest of his family. His death, and encouragement from her children, motivated her to speak out. She noted that there were similarities between her story and that of Sally Hemings, a slave with whom Thomas Jefferson bore children.

“My children deserve the right to know from whom, where and what they have come,” Ms. Washington-Williams said. “I am committed in teaching them and helping them to learn about their past. It is their right to know and understand the rich history of their ancestry, black and white.”

Measuring her emotions, Ms. Washington-Williams explained that her mother was Carrie Butler, a teenage maid in the Thurmond household in Aiken, S.C., in the 1920s, when Mr. Thurmond, the son of a wealthy lawyer, was in his early 20s. She would go on to say in interviews that not until she was 13 and being raised by an aunt did she learn that Ms. Butler was her mother. Several years later, after her mother took her to meet him for the first time, she learned that her father was white.

“You,” he said to Ms. Butler, “have a lovely young daughter.”

After that meeting, Mr. Thurmond, who did not yet hold elected office, delivered $200 to his daughter, using go-betweens.

In 1948, the year Ms. Butler died at age 38, Mr. Thurmond, then the governor of South Carolina, ran for president on a segregationist platform.

“All the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes,” he said at the time.

While Ms. Washington-Williams’s 2003 announcement was a revelation for many people, many others had long understood Mr. Thurmond to have had an interracial child.

He met with her many times while she was a student at South Carolina State University, a historically black college, and after she moved to Los Angeles, where she and her husband, a lawyer, raised her four children. He provided some financial support to her children, and wrote a letter of recommendation for her son to attend medical school. Ms. Washington-Williams said that she had visited his office in Washington many times and felt no bitterness toward him.

“All of those on his staff knew exactly who I was,” she said in making her announcement.

Ms. Washington-Williams sought no financial compensation. After her announcement, the Thurmond family quickly acknowledged the family link, and she met personally with at least two of her half-siblings, J. Strom Thurmond Jr., a former United States attorney in South Carolina, and Paul Thurmond, a Republican state senator.

Essie Mae Washington was born on Oct. 12, 1925, in Aiken, S.C. She moved to Coatesville, Pa., as a young child and was raised by her aunt and uncle, whose name she took. She met her husband, Julius T. Williams, while both attended South Carolina State. In Los Angeles, she spent more than 30 years as a teacher and school administrator while her husband worked as a lawyer.

Her survivors include two daughters, Monica Williams-Hudgens and Wanda Williams-Bailey; a son, Ronald; more than a dozen grandchildren; and several great-grandchildren; as well as her two half-brothers and a half-sister, Mr. Thurmond’s daughter, Juliana Whitmer. A son, Julius, and her husband both died before her.

In 2004, a monument at the South Carolina State House was altered to add the name Essie Mae as one of Mr. Thurmond’s children. In 2005, she published a best-selling memoir, “Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond.”

In that book, she recalled that Mr. Thurmond had required her to travel from California to Atlanta in later years to receive money. She also recalled his response when she sent him a Father’s Day card:

“Dear Essie Mae, Thank you for your kind remembrance on Father’s Day. Affectionately, Strom Thurmond.”


He never had the backbone to claim and publicly acknowledge his daughter, but in retrospect Ms. Essie Mae Washington-Williams was a better person than the man who never called her “Daughter”.

I originally wrote on Ms. Washington-Williams in a post  here.

I saluted and admired her courage in what must have been a hard, yet loving decision to make.

May she rest in peace.




Published: February 7, 2013

  • Cardiss Collins, who reluctantly ran for a Chicago Congressional seat left vacant when her husband died in a plane crash and went on to become Illinois’s first black congresswoman, serving for nearly 25 years as a voice for racial and gender equality and expanded health care for the poor, died on Sunday in Arlington, Va. She was 81.

Associated Press

Cardiss Collins in 1973.

Her death was confirmed by Representative Danny K. Davis, who succeeded her in 1997 after she retired from Congress.

Mrs. Collins’s husband, George W. Collins, had served two years when he was among 45 people killed in the crash of United Airlines Flight 553 near Midway Airport in Chicago on Dec. 8, 1972. Local Democrats, led by Mayor Richard J. Daley, quickly endorsed Mrs. Collins to succeed him. Mrs. Collins, then 41 and an auditor for the Illinois Revenue Department who was worried about the couple’s 13-year-old son, Kevin, was wary of running but eventually agreed to do so.

She campaigned little but easily won the primary in April and cruised through the general election in June with 92 percent of the vote. Six years later, and after some early struggles in office — she had never considered a political career before she was thrust into one — she became chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. For much of the 1980s, she was the only black woman in Congress.

“In the last six years, my biggest roadblock has been shyness,” Mrs. Collins told The Washington Post in 1979. “I was basically an introvert, but once people learned I had something to say, I gained confidence.”

Mrs. Collins was openly critical of President Jimmy Carter, questioning his commitment to social programs and minorities. She did not invite him to speak at the caucus’s annual fund-raising dinner in 1979, although he had spoken there in previous years, and she expressed support for Senator Edward M. Kennedy when he signaled that he would run against Mr. Carter for the Democratic nomination in 1980.

When Ronald Reagan was elected that fall, she was no easier on him when he proposed cutting social programs.

“Mr. President, if you promise me you won’t hurt the poor I’ll sit down right now,” she said at a meeting in March 1981 after challenging Mr. Reagan’s description of welfare cheating.

Mrs. Collins, who rose to leading roles on a range of Congressional committees, was also a steady supporter of equity in college athletics, pressing the N.C.A.A. to honor the requirements of Title IX and requiring colleges to disclose more details about how they spent federal money.

She was particularly assertive on affirmative action and minority employment issues, criticizing various agencies and industries for what she called their poor records of hiring minorities. The Smithsonian Institution and the airline industry were among her targets.

She pushed through legislation in 1990 expanding Medicare coverage for mammography screening for older and disabled women and introduced resolutions designating October National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She wrote laws increasing safety labeling on toys, setting safety standards for bicycle helmets and expanding child care services for federal workers nationwide. She also sponsored several measures to make air travel safer.

Cardiss Hortense Robertson was born on Sept. 24, 1931, in St. Louis. Her family moved to Detroit when she was 10, and she graduated from high school there before attending Northwestern University in Chicago. After college, she initially worked as a stenographer at the Illinois Department of Labor. She married Mr. Collins in 1958.

Her survivors include her son and a granddaughter.




Clem Murray/The Philadelphia Inquirer, via Associated Press

Arlene C. Ackerman got a standing ovation after addressing principals in Philadelphia in 2011.


Published: February 4, 2013

  • Arlene C. Ackerman, who won national accolades for improving student performance as a schools superintendent in all three cities that hired her — Washington, San Francisco and Philadelphia — even as her bulldozer management style rankled union leaders and politicians, died on Saturday in Albuquerque. She was 66.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, said the Rev. Kevin Johnson, a friend. She lived in Albuquerque.

Dr. Ackerman called herself “a warrior for children.” She fought to improve the performance of disadvantaged students by allocating more resources and attention to lower-performing schools, and by replacing the worst with new ones, often charter schools. In 2010 she won the Richard R. Green Award, given by the Council of Great City Schools to the nation’s top urban school leader.

Arne Duncan, the federal education secretary, said in a statement after her death that he had learned from Dr. Ackerman during his years as superintendent of the Chicago schools.

Dr. Ackerman improved students’ test scores, including those in the most severely underperforming schools, in each of the three cities in which she presided. But in each city disagreements with elected school overseers prompted her to leave before her contract expired. Many attributed this to arrogance and an autocratic style; some called her Queen Arlene.

In San Francisco, “she was unwilling to listen to different points of view and not able to work with the entire Board of Education,” Mark Sanchez, its president, said in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2008.

Dr. Ackerman countered that she was unwilling to play politics. “Is it a crime to stand up for children instead of stooping down into the political sandbox and selling our children for a politician’s campaign victory?” she said to The Inquirer.

When she became superintendent in Washington in 1998, Dr. Ackerman dismissed 30 principals and 600 administrative staff members in her first three months. When she took over in San Francisco in 2000, she said, she was appalled by financial shenanigans in the district’s facilities division and called in the police and the F.B.I. She recovered $50 million in settlements from companies defrauding the schools.

Her first step in Philadelphia was to create a five-year blueprint that called for allocating more resources to needier schools and expansion of school choice. Three years of gains in test scores ensued.

Arlene Cassandra Randle was born in St. Louis on Jan. 10, 1947, the first of five children of a Protestant minister and a teacher. For Arlene, who was black, race was a constant consideration: after attending an all-black elementary school, she was one of only 50 black students in a 3,000-student high school. Dr. Ackerman recalled an episode in which a white girl lied in accusing her of threatening her with a knife. An assistant principal threatened to expel her, but her father, outraged, straightened things out.

When she was chosen for the National Honor Society, the white student who was to escort her into the induction ceremony refused. She entered alone.

Dr. Ackerman earned an undergraduate degree in elementary education from what is now Harris-Stowe State University, a historically black college in St. Louis. She earned master’s degrees from Washington University and Harvard and a doctorate from Harvard, all in education. She taught elementary and middle school in a St. Louis suburb, rising to middle school principal and school district administrator.

In 1992, she was recruited to be an administrator in the Seattle school system. She went to Washington in 1997 as an assistant to the chief schools executive for the District of Columbia and became superintendent the next year. She was praised for working with parents and criticized for clashing with politicians.

In 2000, Dr. Ackerman was the first woman to be appointed superintendent of the San Francisco schools. In 2004 and 2005 San Francisco had the highest achievement of any urban school system in California. In 2005 the city was a finalist for the Broad Prize for Urban Education, given annually to the best urban school district in the country.

From 2006 to 2008, Dr. Ackerman taught at Teachers College, Columbia University. She was superintendent in Philadelphia from 2008 to 2011. When she left, some criticized her severance package of $905,000 at a time when the schools were struggling. The criticism grew after she applied for unemployment.

Dr. Ackerman’s two marriages ended in divorce. She is survived by her sons, Anthony and Matthew Antognoli; four granddaughters; and several brothers and sisters.

For all her political battles, Dr. Ackerman remained at heart a teacher. Once a week, she escaped her superintendent duties to read to kindergartners.




New York Times Associated Press In Print: Monday, February 4, 2013

Former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle wrote a bestseller about his experience as a sniper in Iraq, where a bounty was put on him.
Chris Kyle wrote a bestseller about his experience as a sniper in Iraq, where a bounty was put on him.  [Associated Press (2012)]

HOUSTON — From his perch in hideouts above battle-scarred Iraq, Chris Kyle earned a reputation as one of America’s deadliest military snipers. The Pentagon said his skills with a rifle so terrorized Iraqi insurgents during his four tours of duty that they nicknamed him the “Devil of Ramadi” and put a bounty on his head.

The insurgents never collected, and he returned home to become a best-selling author and a mentor to other veterans, sometimes taking them shooting at a gun range near his Texas home as a kind of therapy to salve battlefield scars, friends said. One such veteran was Eddie Ray Routh, a 25-year-old Marine who had served tours in Iraq and Haiti.

But on Saturday, far from a war zone, Routh turned on Kyle, 38, and a second man, Chad Littlefield, 35, shortly after they arrived at an exclusive shooting range near Glen Rose, Texas, about 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth, law enforcement authorities said Sunday.

The officials said that for reasons that were still unclear, Routh shot and killed both men with a semiautomatic handgun before fleeing in a pickup truck belonging to Kyle.

“Chad and Chris had taken a veteran out to shoot to try to help him,” said Travis Cox, a friend of Kyle’s. “And they were killed.”

Routh was captured a few hours later near his home in Lancaster, a Dallas suburb, following a brief pursuit. He will be charged with two counts of capital murder, law enforcement officials said.

Pentagon records show that Routh is a member of the Marine Reserves.

Friends of Kyle said he had been well acquainted with the difficulties soldiers face returning to civilian life, and had devoted much of his time since retiring in 2009 to helping fellow soldiers.

“He served this country with extreme honor, but came home and was a servant leader in helping his brothers and sisters dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Cox, also a former military sniper. “Everyone has their own inner struggles, but he was very proactive about the things he was dealing with.”

In 2011, Kyle created the FITCO Cares Foundation to provide veterans with exercise equipment and counseling. He believed that exercise and the camaraderie of fellow veterans could help former soldiers ease into civilian life.

Kyle, who lived outside of Dallas with his wife and their two children, had his own difficulties adjusting after retiring from the SEALs. He was deployed in Iraq during the worst years of the insurgency, perched in or on top of bombed-out apartment buildings with his .300 Winchester Magnum. His job was to prevent enemy fighters from ambushing Marine units.

He did not think the job would be difficult, he wrote in his book, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.”

But two weeks into his time in Iraq, he found himself staring through his scope into the face of an unconventional enemy. A woman with a child standing close by had pulled a grenade from beneath her clothes as several Marines approached. He hesitated, he wrote, then shot.

“It was my duty to shoot, and I don’t regret it,” he wrote.

Kyle’s autobiography became a nonfiction bestseller.

Sheriff Tommy Bryant of Erath County said investigators were still sorting out how the three men had known one another and for how long. The authorities said they did not know the motive for the killings.




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