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Mon, 12.15.2003

Strom Thurmond’s family verifies Black daughter

Essie Mae Washington Williams

On this date in 2003, Strom Thurmond's family acknowledged a California woman's claim that she was his illegitimate Black daughter.

This announcement came from Columbia, S.C., where the former South Carolina senator's family lawyer, J. Mark Taylor, said: "As J. Strom Thurmond has passed away and cannot speak for himself, the Thurmond family acknowledges Ms. Essie Mae Washington-Williams' claim to her heritage. We hope this acknowledgment will bring closure for Ms. Williams."

Williams (at that time) was a 78-year-old retired teacher living in Los Angeles. Thurmond died in June 2003 at age 100. Williams had long been rumored to be Thurmond's child, though she had previously denied it. She said she waited to go public because she didn't want to embarrass herself or hurt Thurmond's career.  In seven decades of politics, Thurmond gained fame and infamy as an arch-segregationist, but he later came to support a holiday for the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

Williams claims Thurmond fathered her when he was a 22-year-old living in his parents' home in Edgefield.  Her mother, Carrie Butler, 16, had been working as a maid in the Thurmond home. Raised by an aunt, Williams said she first met Thurmond around 1941, when she was 16, and Thurmond called her a "very lovely daughter." She told the newspaper she received money at least once a year in sessions arranged by Thurmond's Senate staff.

The Associated Press
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