Published February 04, 2013
Essie Mae Washington-Williams, daughter of late U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, diesJamie Self
Essie Mae Washington-Williams, the long-unrecognized daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, died Monday at 87.Washington-Williams, the bi-racial daughter of onetime segregationist Thurmond and an African-American maid in his parents Edgefield home, was living in Irmo at the time of her death, according to a notice from Leevy's Funeral Home.It was not until 2003, after the death of the U.S. senator of 48 years, that Washington-Williams revealed that Thurmond was her father. At the time, the Thurmond family said the senator never had mentioned his first-born child, but they swiftly acknowledged her claim.Washington-Williams first came forward to reveal her father in 2003 in an interview with The Washington Post.A week later, the retired Los Angeles school teacher told her story to a press conference in Columbia, saying, At last, I feel completely free.At the Columbia press conference, Washington-Williams said her mother Carrie Butler was a maid working for the Thurmond family. She said she met her father for the first time at 16.Washington-Williams was raised by her aunt and uncle in Pennsylvania.After high school, Washington-Williams enrolled in the then-S.C. State College in Orangeburg on Thurmonds recommendation. Thurmond, the governor of South Carolina, kept in touch with her, visiting her on occasion, and providing financial support, she said in 2003.Washington-Williams said she waited to tell her story publicly until after Thurmonds death because: Throughout his life and mine, we respected each other. I never wanted to do anything to harm him or cause detriment to his life or the lives of those around him. My father did a lot of things to help other people, even thought his public stance appeared opposite.Washington-Williams previously had explained her relation to Thurmond to her children, to help them understand their past, she said.The 2003 public announcement brought to a close the decades-old rumor that Thurmond, who ran for United States president in 1948 on the segregationist States Rights Democratic Party platform, had fathered a child with a black woman.Washington-Williams also penned a memoir about her life called Dear Senator.In 2004, Washington-Williams' name was etched on the statue honoring Thurmond on the State House grounds alongside the names of the senator's other four children.Charleston journalist Jack Bass, who co-wrote the Thurmond biography Ol Strom, said he doesnt think Washington-Williams ever held hard feelings toward Thurmond.It was a very complex relationship, Bass said. He provided financial support. Did he pay to keep her quiet? I think it was more complex than that.Bass described Washington-Williams as a reserved, church-going person who took good care of her children Thurmonds grandchildren.State Sen. John Courson, who was close to the Thurmond family, said he was saddened to learn of Washington-Williams, who he described as a courteous person who in some ways reminded him of the late U.S. senator.Im terribly sorry to hear this, said Courson, who escorted Washington-Williams several years ago on a tour of the State House.On the tour, the two visited the Thurmond monument on the State House grounds.She was very much of a Southern lady, Courson said.