The Buzz

December 22, 2013

POLITICS: After her death, a look at the life of Strom Thurmond's secret daughter

The Buzz

A blog from The State's political team of Cassie Cope, Jamie Self and Andy Shain. Email tips to

Former State reporter Marilyn Thompson wrote an essay for Politico about Essie Washington-Williams, who died this year For years, she sent mail to her father at his U.S. Senate office, where it was kept on file along with thousands of other letters. She occasionally sent Father’s Day cards and turned to him for help when her son wanted to go to medical school.

His acknowledgements, if they came at all, were offered in brief notes on Senate stationery or in private, with messages and money sometimes delivered by a Senate aide.

The writer of the notes—signed in a schoolteacher’s perfect cursive script—was Essie Washington-Williams, then living in Los Angeles, and the receiver, it was revealed much later, was Strom Thurmond, the longtime South Carolina senator and one of the South’s leading segregationists.

Thurmond kept his half-black daughter, Essie, a secret his whole life, while sending her financial assistance. And Washington-Williams honored the arrangement until Thurmond died in June 2003 at age 100. Her revelation was a shock to many, complicating America’s view of the firebrand Thurmond, while sparking interest in Washington-Williams’s own unusual story.

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