Segregationist Strom Thurmond's Mixed-Race Love Child
Thurmond built his early political success on his workings as a staunch segregationist, fighting for causes that can only be described in hindsight as racist and backwards. It wasn't until weeks after his death in 2003 that Americans learned the depth of Thurmond's hypocrisy. That's when Essie Mae Washington, the daughter of a black maid from South Carolina, spoke 7 words that changed the nature of Thurmond's legacy forever: "My Father's Name Was James Strom Thurmond."
Washington revealed that not only was Thurmond her biological father, but he had done the right thing for her.
Washington was born in 1925 when Thurmond was 22 and her mother, a house maid for his family, was 16. Thurmond never forgot his responsibility, helping to support her, and even paying her way through college at South Carolina State University.
Washington did not know Thurmond was her biological father until her mother introduced them when she was 16. She maintained a relationship with Thurmond throughout his life, though the two disagreed about his segregationist work on the state level and later in the Senate, where he served from 1956-2003.
Of her long silence, Washington said, "I was sensitive about his well-being, his career and his family. I never wanted to do anything to harm him."
Six months after Thurmond's death on June 26, 2003, Essie Mae Washington-Williams publicly revealed that she was Strom Thurmond's daughter.
She was born to a black maid, Carrie "Tunch" Butler (1909–1948), on October 12, 1925, when Butler was 16 years old and Thurmond 22.
He helped pay Washington-Williams' way through college and later paid her sums of money in cash or checks passed through relatives. Though Thurmond never publicly acknowledged Washington-Williams when he was alive, he continued to support her financially. These payments extended well into her adult life.
Washington-Williams has stated that she did not reveal she was Thurmond's daughter during his lifetime because it "wasn't to the advantage of either one of us" and that she kept silent out of love and respect for her father. She denies that there was an agreement between the two to keep her connection to Thurmond silent.
After Washington-Williams came forward, the Thurmond family publicly acknowledged her parentage. Many close friends, staff members, and SC state residents had long suspected this to have been the case, stating that Thurmond had always taken a great amount of interest in Washington-Williams and that she was granted a degree of access to Thurmond more appropriate to a family member than to a member of the public.