Essie Mae Washington-Williams, who was at the center of a media frenzy in 2003 after revealing she was Sen. Strom Thurmond's secret Black daughter, has died of natural causes at the age of 87 in Whiterock, South Carolina, on Feb. 4.
Williams spent 78 years of her life living behind the secret she only shared with her mother and father. Her mother, Carrie Butler, was 16 when she gave birth to her with Thurmond, who was then 22. He eventually became a leading segregationist in the country during the Jim Crow-era and hid her existence while supporting her and her children through college.
“On behalf of the Williams family, we are deeply saddened by the loss of the matriarch of our family,” says Mrs. Maria Hutchinson, Mrs. Washington-William’s first born granddaughter, “We have plans for a dedication to the memory of our mother and grandmother and great-grandmother.”
“Her passing is a great and deep loss for our family," said Hutchinson. "The autobiographical saga of her life and family history touched so many people outside of our family. And for that she will always be remembered.”
The Los Angeles Times reports of her father:
Her [Williams'] relationship to Thurmond stirred complicated emotions, which she kept to herself.
As governor, Thurmond was a proud, loud segregationist who in 1948 declared publicly that there were "not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the n----r race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches."
"I wasn't proud of him at that time," Washington-Williams told The Times in 2004.
One time when she was in college she asked him why he was segregationist "and he said, 'Well, that's the way things have always been,'" she recalled in the CBS interview.
"I don't believe he was a racist at heart. And when the times changed, he changed," she said.
Read the full story here.
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(Photo: Stephen Morton/Getty Images)