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by Marilyn Thompson
Monday, Dec. 15, 2003 at 5:32 PM
In 1925 Strom Thurmond fathered a child by a 16 year old African-American, Carrie Butler. Thurmond, then 22 was living with his parents in Edgefield, South Carolina, and worked as a teacher and high school coach.
Washington Post, December 15, 2003
A 78-year-old retired schoolteacher has broken a lifetime of silence to announce that she is the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of former Republican senator James Strom Thurmond - once the nation's leading segregationist.
Essie Mae Washington-Williams, whose mother was a teenage maid in the Thurmond home in South Carolina, has long been the subject of speculation and has been pursued by journalists for two decades. Ms Williams had always denied she was Thurmond's child.
Her lawyer, Frank Wheaton of Los Angeles, said that she was coming forward "at the urging and encouragement of her children" to confirm years of speculation that Thurmond fathered a child by Carrie Butler, who was then 16 years old, in 1925. Thurmond, then 22 and living with his parents in Edgefield, South Carolina, was a teacher and high school coach.
Butler, who was unmarried, named the baby Essie after her sister. Baby Essie was brought up in Philadelphia by a married aunt, Mary Washington. The Washingtons gave the baby their last name. In college, Essie Mae married law student Julius Williams.
Ms Williams said she first met Thurmond around 1941 when she was 16 after returning to Edgefield for a visit. Her mother, who was to die soon after from an untreatable kidney disease, insisted on introducing her to her father, she said.
Ms Williams's account resurrects one of the oldest stories in 20th-century southern political folklore. Over the years, Thurmond had called the allegation that he fathered a mixed-race child too unseemly to warrant comment. "I did not want anybody to know I had an illegitimate father," said Ms Williams, who has four grown children. "My children convinced me to tell the truth. I want to finally answer all of these questions... that have been following me for 50 or 60 years."
Ms Williams said that Thurmond privately acknowledged her as his daughter and had provided financial support since 1941. Due to hold a press conference on Wednesday, she said she had protected Thurmond because of their mutual "deep respect" and her fears that disclosure would embarrass her and harm his political career.
Thurmond, who retired last year as the nation's longest-serving senator after 48 years in office, died in June aged 100. He had always insisted Ms Williams was just a family friend.
For years, he was a staunch supporter of segregation. He broke with the Democratic Party in the late 1940s to run for president in 1948 as a Dixiecrat, embracing the notion, as he said at the time, that "on the question of social intermingling of the races, our people draw the line".
Mr Wheaton said Ms Williams was not seeking money from Thurmond's estate but wanted acknowledgement that she was his daughter and was ready to submit to DNA tests if challenged by his family.
The senator's will, which did not mention Ms Williams, bequeathed cash and real estate to his three surviving children and estranged wife.
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