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

Essie Mae Washington-Williams
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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