Essie Mae Washington-Williams

Essie Mae Washington-Williams, Black Daughter of Strom Thurmond, Dies

The woman who kept the secret of her parentage until Thurmond’s death was quintessentially American, writes John Avlon of The Daily Beast

by Team Ebony, February 7, 2013

Essie Mae Washington-Williams

South Carolina Essie Mae Washington-Williams shakes hands with a supporter after she announced that Sen. Strom Thurmond acknowledged her as his daught

Stephen Morton/Getty

It’s time to say goodbye to Essie Mae: a woman the world didn’t know until she was 78, and a woman whose very existence exposed the essential hypocrisy of segregation.

Essie Mae Washington-Williams, who passed away on Monday, was the daughter of Strom Thurmond, the archetypal Dixiecrat whose passionate defense of segregation as a state’s rights issue and a way of life led him to split from the Democratic Party and challenge Harry S. Truman for the presidency in 1948.

But while Ol’ Strom was singing from the segregationist/traditionalist hymnal—always carefully framed as a defense of “individual liberty and freedom and … the right of the people to govern themselves”—there was a secret neither his admirers nor his detractors had imagined: Thurmond had an illegitimate black child.

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