Stranger than fiction.
February 25, 2007 2:17 PM   Subscribe

Genealogists: Thurmond's family owned Sharpton's kin It seems like a poor joke or a REALLY bad idea for a TV movie but apparently it's quite real. Truth sometimes IS stranger than fiction.
posted by orbis23 (51 comments total)
 
Thanks for including that second link to the same CNN front page article. Reading it twice does indeed verify that it is real.
posted by googly at 2:21 PM on February 25, 2007


Yeah, I screwed that up....
posted by orbis23 at 2:22 PM on February 25, 2007


Put your other link here, it will get fixed.
posted by lee at 2:29 PM on February 25, 2007


Insert obligatory "Strom's daddy was Al's daddy, too" quip.
posted by frogan at 2:33 PM on February 25, 2007


The admins will be able to fix it more quickly if you email them... We all make mistakes... Why so snotty, googly?
posted by amyms at 2:34 PM on February 25, 2007


Well, it's kind of tenuous.

Strom Thurmond's great-great-grandfather's granddaughter had Al Sharpton's great-grandfather as a slave. (I hate the word "owned" here, ugh.)

Or, using the extended cousin terms we've all heard but not all of us can always decode, it was Strom Thurmond's second cousin, once removed.

Very surreal nonetheless, and I think it demonstrates how pervasive slavery is/was.
posted by blacklite at 2:39 PM on February 25, 2007


No way.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:40 PM on February 25, 2007


An interesting if completely meaningless statistic. Given: Slavery is and was evil. What does this one confluence demonstrate about the pervasive nature of slavery? Nothing.
posted by beelzbubba at 2:45 PM on February 25, 2007


Way!
posted by Samizdata at 2:46 PM on February 25, 2007


I'm sure somebody within six degrees of Kevin Bacon owned someone related to Al Sharpton.
posted by 2sheets at 2:49 PM on February 25, 2007


In related news -- Virginia lawmakers apologize for slavery.
posted by ericb at 2:49 PM on February 25, 2007


"I doubt you can find many native South Carolinians today whose family, if you traced them back far enough, didn't own slaves," said Senter, 61, of Columbia, South Carolina.

I thought that only a small minority of really wealthy people owned slaves. Assuming that 150 years yields about 6 generations, that would mean everyone living today would have 64 ancestors from the slave era. Add in people's cousins and stuff and it really gets complex. Of course Strom was born in 1902, less then 50 years after the end of slavery.
posted by delmoi at 2:50 PM on February 25, 2007


I woulda sworn that my 7th grade social studies teacher said that Stevie Wonder's family had been owned by Jimmy Carter's family; but 3 minutes of Googling yields no success. Anyone else heard that one?

My thoughts: Slavery was bad.

But a lot of people defended it; after all, things had ever been thus.

Here's an awesome post by a less-snotty googly about the voting behavior of freed slaves, their descendants, and white people.
posted by ibmcginty at 2:50 PM on February 25, 2007


Or, using the extended cousin terms we've all heard but not all of us can always decode, it was Strom Thurmond's second cousin, once removed.

You Yankees just don't understand how important these 'cousin' distinctions are.
posted by spiderwire at 3:07 PM on February 25, 2007


Delmoi: at the time of secession, something like 48% of white families in South Carolina owned slaves. The idea that "only a small minority of really wealthy people owned slaves" is one of those neo-Confederate justifications like "the Civil War was really about States' Rights" to paper over how the antebellum American South was a cesspool of evil.
posted by Justinian at 3:17 PM on February 25, 2007 [3 favorites]


She added: "And it is wonderful that (Sharpton) was able to become what he is in spite of what his forefather was."

Shouldn't it say...
She added: "And it is wonderful that (Sharpton) was able to become what he is in spite of what MY forefather was."
posted by cloeburner at 3:21 PM on February 25, 2007 [5 favorites]


I know this sounds a bit wishy-washy (I can't be bothered to route out the source I got this from) but you only have to count back a suprisingly small number of generations before finding a common anscestor to everyone else in the world.
posted by popcassady at 3:21 PM on February 25, 2007


My thoughts: Slavery was bad.
Bold stance. Though personally, I would even go so far as to say that it still is.
posted by Flunkie at 3:32 PM on February 25, 2007


Next thing we know, I'm related to Strom Thurmond. Let's not go down this road.
posted by gordie at 3:36 PM on February 25, 2007


something like 48% of white families in South Carolina owned slaves

According to the South Carolina State Museum, there were 26,701 slaveholders in South Carolina in 1860*

"South Carolina had a tremendous number of slaves, especially given its small size. In fact, by 1860 the only other states that had as many slaves were Georgia and Virginia – both of which were at least twice South Carolina's size!"*
posted by ericb at 3:37 PM on February 25, 2007


Strom Thurmond's family still owns Sharpton's.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:39 PM on February 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


ericb: If we take those numbers as fact, it seems to square with about 48% of families owning at least one slave. The total white population was around 290,000 of which 26,701 were slaveowners. An average family size of between 5 and 6 (in line with the numbers I have seen) gives us a number of white familes in South Carolina in the mid 50-thousands.. 26,700 slaveholders (probably almost always the "head of household") out of 55,000 families is roughly 48%.
posted by Justinian at 3:50 PM on February 25, 2007


Strom Thurmond's family still pwns Sharpton's.
posted by basicchannel at 4:11 PM on February 25, 2007


We need something else to flesh this plot out. Maybe sunken confederate gold or vampires and pirates, and plenty of explosions. We get Nicholas Cage and Eddie Murphy to give this thing some legs and New Line Cinema has a summer blockbuster on its hands.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 4:22 PM on February 25, 2007


Between this and his black daughter, can I say that America's Genealogists really dropped the ball on getting this out before the bastard kicked it?

It would've made this movie so much better.
posted by griphus at 4:25 PM on February 25, 2007


"Insert obligatory 'Strom's daddy was Al's daddy, too" quip.'

OK.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:30 PM on February 25, 2007


I wonder why Sharpton found this to be shocking. I wouldn't think that this news would cause such a strong reaction.
posted by Tullius at 4:30 PM on February 25, 2007


Actually, it was his first cousin twice removed.
posted by alexei at 4:31 PM on February 25, 2007


Is this that irony thing all the kids are so into?
posted by Iron Rat at 4:35 PM on February 25, 2007


"I wonder why Sharpton found this to be shocking."
Because not finding it shocking would mean less air time for him. I imagine he'll be shocked for awhile.
posted by 2sheets at 5:47 PM on February 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Justinian -- I posted those numbers to back-up your position. Slaveholding in S.C. was very common -- and the population of black slaves far outnumbered those of the white population.

At the time of secession (December 1860) the population statistics in S.C. were: 291,300 (white) to 412,320 (black) *
posted by ericb at 5:53 PM on February 25, 2007


Maybe they should make a license plate motto out of it. South Carolina: We loved us some slavery!
posted by Justinian at 6:11 PM on February 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Strom Thurmond looks like he was crafted from cottage cheese. That is all I have to add to this conversation.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:31 PM on February 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why so judgmental, amyms?

Maybe if you stick around for another month or two, you'll see that single-link posts to front-page news are seldom considered good FPPs. And I was willing to give orbis the benefit of the doubt, because it looked like he might have done just en entsy bit of extra research and provided us with some relevant background - like, for example, an FPP that goes into depth about the relevant historical background (thanks, ibmcginty). But no, it was just the same link, repeated - or perhaps it was a mistake that the most basic proofreading would have easily avoided.

Yes, we all make mistakes amyms. Yours is being a bit too hair-trigger with the name-calling.
posted by googly at 7:17 PM on February 25, 2007


BTW, I believe that I was being snarky, not snotty.
posted by googly at 7:35 PM on February 25, 2007


Assuming that 150 years yields about 6 generations, that would mean everyone living today would have 64 ancestors from the slave era.

Actually it's a maximum of 64, and is more likely to be in the high 50's. The further back you go, the more compressed the tree gets, as fourth cousins etc marry.

Jackson is descended from slave owners too. "Ancestral evil" and "ancestral good" are two sides of the same wooden nickel. While holding a person responsible for the circumstances of their ancestral descent is traditional in many societies (eg, the concept of bastardry), it's a stupid prejudice. We are all, at some point, the descendants of some remarkably good and some remarkably evil people and a hell of a lot of ordinary ones. Some of our ancestors were conceived in violent rape, and some conceived in loving marriage. None of that says anything meaningful about us, at least not past ones' grandparental generation.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:50 PM on February 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Perspective.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:58 PM on February 25, 2007


The idea that "only a small minority of really wealthy people owned slaves" is one of those neo-Confederate justifications like "the Civil War was really about States' Rights" to paper over how the antebellum American South was a cesspool of evil.

I'm not going to argue this too much, since I don't have the figures handy and this isn't my specialty or anything, but it seems to me that South Carolina was very unusual if nearly half of its families owned slaves. I'm almost positive the number was far lower in North Carolina. This page, quoting William Powell's fairly standard history North Carolina Through Four Centuries, claims that 27,000 out of 85,000 farmers in the state (less than 1/3) owned any slaves at all in 1860. Plantation owners were apparently another story, but the idea in Justinian's analysis that half of the citizens of South Carolina owned slaves strikes me as questionable, at best.
posted by mediareport at 10:43 PM on February 25, 2007


Er, I meant at *least*.
posted by mediareport at 10:47 PM on February 25, 2007


mediareport, I don't find it problematic. The cotton economy was more important the farther south you got. I found these lecture notes (not the greatest source, but I'm going for quick) that confirm the general points:
* In DE, MD, KY, & MO, some 22% of white families owned slaves
* In VA, NC, TN, & AK, it was 36%
* In SC to TX, the Deep South, it was 43%.

The numbers of the "ultra-wealthy" who owned slaves varied with the plantation economy, but even an average middle-class family probably owned one or two slaves, e.g. a cook and a maid. (It would probably not be a misrepresentation, though obviously tasteless, to say that a family's slaves may be its prized possessions along with a house and horses. In the North, it didn't take much wealth to afford servants.) There was great disparity between this economy and the North's "free soil" economy, which was based on family & paid labor, and this disparity contributed greatly to the Civil War.

There was also a notable decline in slave ownership in the years prior to the Civil War, as the ban on slave importation meant that they became more expensive, and that being able to maintain a large enough population of slaves that you could occasionally sell the offspring tended to further concentrate slave ownership.

Assuming that 150 years yields about 6 generations, that would mean everyone living today would have 64 ancestors from the slave era.

See common ancestors of all humans, a fascinating sort of Freakonomics approach to this question. It does depend, though -- I know that on one side of my family, all my ancestors came here from Sweden in the 20th century. On the other side, at least one set of ancestors named Penn may be part of the planter (read: likely slave-owning) William Penn cousins from Maryland; on the other hand they were Quakers, like Wm. himself, so likely opposed personally. All my other known ancestors came from places like New York where slave-owning, even when it was legal, was relatively rare. In other words, those 64 ancestors are not spread evenly across the country.

But if you have any southern ancestors at all, it's difficult to escape the conclusion that some of them did own slaves.
posted by dhartung at 11:10 PM on February 25, 2007


The cotton economy was more important the farther south you got.

Yeah, that makes sense, thanks.
posted by mediareport at 11:36 PM on February 25, 2007


(But it's still worth noting, particularly for non-Southerners who don't know much about Southern history, that we're still in the realm of significantly less than half of Southern white families owning slaves. Still a horrid state of affairs, certainly.)
posted by mediareport at 11:42 PM on February 25, 2007


mediareport: aside from the points made in dhartung's excellent post, the statistic was nearly half of white families owned slaves in South Carolina, not white citizens. And the quoted figures of almost 27,000 slaveowners out of 290,000 white citizens come from official US government census data. Combine that with an average family size of between 5 and 6 and I don't see how any other conclusion can be reached.
posted by Justinian at 11:44 PM on February 25, 2007


Oh christ. We all hate slavery. One thing we have between us (north and south) today that's making us disagree is disapproval of a stupid and long and very ill-advised civil war a couple of centuries gone. Long gone, except for an imaginary line. They owned slaves, and they're dead now. They, not we. Blame our ancestors. But don't blame us.

South Carolina is a great place. Great fishing. Beautiful state. South Caroline used to have slaves, but they don't anymore. They may have reached the 48 percent mark a long, unfortunate time ago. But now? Zero Percent. Do they have other problems? Consequential problems? They have 100 percent problems, just like anywhere else. Just like where you live. They used to have racists, and they still do, but there are racists everywhere.

Go visit it, and while you're at it, quit thinking we're all a bunch of racists just because we weren't born in your latitude. We're just some more Americans that were born a little south of you.

As for Strom Thurmond? Fuck him. Glad he's gone. I'm tired of being assocaited with him.
posted by gordie at 12:38 AM on February 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Associated" with him, I mean. And also "South Carolina". We can still spell, down here. Occasionally.
posted by gordie at 12:55 AM on February 26, 2007


Oddly enough, my family owned a few of Strom Thurmond's ancestors. Then again, we're aliens. We ate them.

/not making generalizations about all extraterrestrials
posted by brundlefly at 1:49 AM on February 26, 2007


South Carolina's motto (and I lived there for about half my life, so I can say this) should be

"It's not the heat; it's the stupidity."

Irmo, South Carolina, population 13,325: Sah-lute!

(It's a Hee Haw thang; you wouldn't understand...)

I love how they had to change the base of Strom's statue on the State House grounds to add Essie Mae's name on it after the fact. They tried their best, but it still looks like crap.
posted by pax digita at 4:29 AM on February 26, 2007


OMG!!! So, Strom Thurmond boned Al Sharpton's great-great-grandmother?! That is so Strom!

I remember one day--we were just outside Vicksburg before it fell--I asked him, "Strom, who is that colored woman at whom you are most indecorously making eyes?"...
posted by the sobsister at 5:52 AM on February 26, 2007


[Explains to the sobsister about birds, bees, slavery]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 6:02 AM on February 26, 2007


Strom Thurmond's great-great-grandfather's granddaughter had Al Sharpton's great-grandfather as a slave. (I hate the word "owned" here, ugh.)

Why? Let's not mince words. Considering the age of human civilization, it's been a mere eyeblink since we thought it was pretty much okay for people to own other people. I don't think we ourselves or anyone else any favors if we minimize that fact with euphemism.
posted by phearlez at 3:29 PM on February 26, 2007


pwnd
posted by matteo at 2:38 AM on February 27, 2007


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