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Bureau of Missing PersonsWriting the Secret Lives of Fathers$
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Roger J. Porter

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780801449871

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801449871.001.0001

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Breaking the Silence

Breaking the Silence

(p.174) Chapter 5 Breaking the Silence
Bureau of Missing Persons

Roger J. Porter

Cornell University Press

This chapter examines two autobiographies in which the writers show how their fathers kept them from knowing the truth of their identities: Essie Mae Washington-Williams's Dear Senator and Bliss Broyard's One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life—A Story of Race and Family Secrets. In Dear Senator, Washington-Williams, the black daughter of Senator Strom Thurmond, the white supremacist South Carolinian, learns that her father was a distinguished white man. In One Drop, Broyard assumed she and her father were white until, as he was dying, she learned that he was a closeted light-skinned black man with Haitian Creole ancestry. In each of these texts about racial secrets and secrecy, the writer tracks the process of exposing the cover-up and the duplicity. This chapter explores the nature of the parental deception and how each daughter responded to her discovery and embarked on an act of self-revision; how each reconceived of her father in light of her new racial identity; and how each woman shapes her story as a journey of exploration, confrontation, and accommodation.

Keywords:   autobiographies, fathers, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, Dear Senator, Bliss Broyard, One Drop, Strom Thurmond, secrets and secrecy, racial identity, race

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