Strom Thurmond's Daughter, Essie Mae Williams, Dies

6:00 PM, Feb 4, 2013   |    comments
Essie Mae Williams.
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Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- Essie Mae Washington Williams, the child Senator Strom Thurmond kept hidden from the public for his entire adult life, has passed away.

Williams died Monday morning in Columbia at the age of 87, News19 has confirmed.

In December of 2003, Williams shocked the political world when she revealed that she was the daughter of the late senator. Her announcement came six months after his death.

Williams' mother worked as a maid for the senator's family in Edgefield County during the 1920s, and the two had a relationship that led to him fathering the child. Her mother was just 16 at the time.

However, because her mother was black, he never acknowledged his child's birth to his family, friends or the public.

As many know, Thurmond later became a stauch advocate for segregation, making that a major part of his platform in his 1948 presidential bid, and fought civil rights efforts during the 1950s and 1960s.

The silence continued up until she made her announcement nine years ago. She herself didn't find out who her father was until she was 16, and Williams said she didn't tell her husband the story until after she was married.

"It wasn't to my advantage to talk about anything that [Thurmond] had done," Williams told News19 in 2003. "It certainly wasn't to the advantage of either one of us. He of course, didn't want it to be known. Neither did I. We didn't have any agreement about not talking about it, we just didn't talk about it."

For over 60 years, the two engaged in a clandestine relationship that included financial support, birthday cards and occasional face to face meetings--but no deep emotions. At one point, Thurmond used one of his nephews as a financial go-between, but that man was never told exactly who he was helping.

"I think he cared about me, otherwise I don't think he would have done the things that he did if he didn't care about me," she said. "I liked him very much. I was not around him, remember. I only saw him about once a year, so I didn't feel that close relationship that you normally would with a parent."

In the intervening years, he helped her gain admission to South Carolina State University. Eventually she moved to Los Angeles, where she worked in the school system as an English second-language teacher and a guidance counselor.

Still, during all that time, she said she often felt hurt by not truly being a member of his family. After her disclosure, Williams wrote a book: "Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond." In it, she wrote about how he never told her he loved her, despite numerous encounters.

"As much as I wanted to 'belong' to him, I never felt like a daughter, only an accident," she wrote. "Something, some strong feeling was definitely there. ... That was what was drawing him to me, and me to him. But that feeling was all bottled up. We both felt it, from opposite sides of an invisible wall. It was segregated love."

In 2004, her name was added to Thurmond's monument on the State House grounds, along with the names of his other children.

Funeral services have not been finalized. The Leevy Funeral Home is making those arrangements.

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