Essie Mae Washington-Williams, a retired teacher and daughter of the late senator and segregationist Strom Thurmond, died Monday. She was 87, reports Fox News.
Washington-Williams made her way to the spotlight in 2003 after her famous father died. She kept her secret for over 70 years while watching her father run for president and preach racism in the south.
Details of her secret life came out when she published the 2005 autobiography, Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond.
“It’s not that Strom Thurmond ever swore me to secrecy. He never swore me to anything,” she wrote. “He trusted me, and I respected him, and we loved each other in our deeply repressed ways, and that was our social contract.” In 2003, she said she never liked his views, “but there was nothing I could do about it. That was his life.”
Thurmond’s son, Paul, a South Carolina senator released a statement to The Associated Press saying, “I was sorry to hear of the passing of Ms. Washington-WIlliams. She was kind and gracious and I have the greatest respect for her, her life and her legacy.”
Thurmond, although he was very passionate about segregation, supported his daughter throughout her life. He paid for her college education and also helped her after she was widowed in 1960.
“In a way, my life began at 78, at least my life as who I really was,” Washington-Williams wrote. “I may have called it ‘closure,’ but it was much more like an opening, a very grand opening.”
Washington-Williams is survived by four children. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.