The mixed-race daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond who kept her parentage secret for more than 70 years to avoid damaging his political career has died. Essie Mae Washington-Williams was 87.
Vann Dozier of Leevy’s Funeral Home in Columbia said Washington-Williams died Monday. A cause of death wasn’t given.
Washington-Williams was the daughter of the one-time segregationist and his family’s black maid.
There had been rumors for decades in political circles and the black community that Thurmond had fathered a daughter by a black woman. But Washington-Williams did not come forward and identify Thurmond as her father until after his death at age 100 in 2003.
Washington-Williams spent decades as a school teacher in Los Angeles. Thurmond was South Carolina’s governor and for a time was the nation’s longest-serving U.S. senator.
See also: Strom Thurmond’s Daughter, Yes He Did:
IT OFTEN happened in the segregated South a century or two ago: a powerful white man fathered mixed-race children with a black slave or servant. Until this week, Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings was the most famous of these once-secret liaisons. Now comes a rival: the late Senator Strom Thurmond, whose 24-hour filibuster against a 1957 civil-rights bill is still the longest-ever speech on the Senate floor. On December 15th his family said that they “acknowledge Ms Essie Mae Washington-Williams’s claim to her heritage.” Her father died in June, a ripe 100.