Essie Mae Washington-Williams, the secret daughter of famed segregationist Strom Thurmond and his African-American maid, died at 87. She kept her father’s identity a secret until after his death so as to not damage his political career.
Up until his death in 2003 at 100 years old, Strom Thurmand had kept the identity of his love child Essie Mae Washington-Williams a secret for fear that it would hurt his political career — especially since Essie’s mother was African American, and Strom was a staunch Republican who championed for segregation.
After his death, Essie came forward to reveal that the true identity of her father.
“I am Essie Mae Washington-Williams, and at last I am completely free,” the retired school teacher declared before 250 reporters in South Carolina. She had kept the secret for more than 60 years.
Strom Thruman’s Political Career As A Southern Segregationist
When Strom was 22, he had an affair with his family’s African-American maid, 16, who worked in their home in Edgefield, South Carolina. Essie kept her father’s identity a secret because she didn’t want to harm his political career. Strom served as a Republican U.S. Senator for South Carolina from 1954 until 2003, and he even ran for president in 1948 as a candidate for the segregationist party known as the States Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrat).
Essie Mae Washington-Williams Secret Relationship With Her Father
Even though he never publicly acknowledged his daughter, he did so privately, and even paid for her to go to college. He also gave her other money from time to time.
“He never called my mother by her name. He didn’t verbally acknowledge that I was his child,” Essie wrote in her Washington-Williams wrote in her autobiography in 2006. “He didn’t ask when I was leaving and didn’t invite me to come back. It was like an audience with an important man, a job interview, but not a reunion with a father.”
His family had kept in touch with Essie, however, and she said his widow Nancy was Nancy, was “a very wonderful person,” and said his son Strom Thrumand Jr. was “very caring, and interested in what’s going on with me.”
Such a tragedy. We’re glad Essie finally found peace and came forward with her identity.
– Christina Stiehl
More recent deaths: