Little Known Black History Fact: Essie Mae Washington-Williams

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  • Essie Mae Washington-Williams, the lovechild of Senator Strom Thurmond and his former black maid, has passed away at age 87. Washington-Williams kept her father’s secret for 70 years. She revealed his identity after Thurmond died in 2003. The former South Carolina governor was a known segregationist and the longest serving senator in U.S. history.

    Essie Mae Washington-Williams was a retired educator who was raised by her mother, Carrie Butler, until Butler died at age 38. She was sent to her aunt and uncle, Mr. John and Mary Washington, in Coatesville, Pa.  The young mixed-race child didn’t even know that her mother was Carrie Butler until the age of 13. She was later told that she was of mixed-race and that her white father was Strom Thurmond.

    Thurmond was in his 20’s when he became close to Carrie Butler, who was a young teenager, working as the household maid. Upon learning that his daughter knew of his identity, Thurmond met with Washington-Williams and sent her $200. Although her father’s identity was not publicly known, Thurmond continued to contribute to his daughter financially and met with her in secret over his lifetime. However, in 1948, the same year that Carrie Butler passed away, Strom Thurmond built his segregationist political platform, denouncing integration of the black and white community.

    Washington-Williams says that those who worked in the Thurmond home knew of her existence and family lineage. Even though Thurmond helped her with occasional finances, met with her at her HBCU, and sent a letter of recommendation for her son to attend medical school, he barely acknowledged a Father’s Day card.

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