The retired African American schoolteacher who in 2003 revealed she was the secret daughter of segregationist U.S. senator Strom Thurmond, has died.
Essie Mae Washington-Williams, 87, died Monday of natural causes in Columbia, S.C., said her attorney, Frank K. Wheaton.
A week before Christmas in 2003, the retired Los Angeles teacher stood before a phalanx of news cameras and 250 reporters in a South Carolina ballroom and declared, “I am Essie Mae Washington-Williams, and at last I am completely free.”
After more than 60 years, Washington-Williams had chosen to unburden herself of a secret: that she, a black woman, had been fathered by the legendary South Carolina politician who had built a long Washington career as a champion of segregation.
Thurmond had died five months earlier at age 100, having never acknowledged that his liaison with a family maid when he was 22 had produced a daughter. At 78, Washington-Williams decided she owed it to history to speak up.
“My children ultimately convinced me that history needed to know about Thurmond and that I should set the record straight,” she wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2003. “I am not doing this for money. I am not suing his estate. I just want to tell the truth.”