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Strom Thurmond's Mixed-Race Daughter Speaks Out - 2003-12-17

The illegitimate mixed-race daughter of the late U.S. Senator and one-time segregationist Strom Thurmond has broken her life-long silence about her father during a news conference Wednesday.

Essie-Mae Washington Williams, 78, who had spent decades denying rumors that she was Mr. Thurmond's daughter, says she is speaking out now because she is looking for a sense of closure.

"I am not bitter, I am not angry, in fact, there is a great sense of peace that has come over me in the past year," she said. "Once I decided that I would no longer harbor such a great secret that many others knew, I feel as though a tremendous weight has been lifted. I am Essie-Mae Williams, and at last, I feel completely free."

Ms. Williams was born in 1925, when Mr. Thurmond was 22 and living in his parents home. Her African-American mother, Carrie Butler, was 16, working as a maid in the Thurmond home.

At a news conference in her native South Carolina, Ms. Williams said she waited until now to talk about her father because she did not want to hurt his career.

"We respected each other," explained Ms. Williams. "I never wanted to do anything to harm him or cause detriment to his life, or to the lives of those around him."

The Thurmond family has acknowledged Ms. Williams' claim. In a statement Wednesday, the Thurmond family said it is seeking a private meeting with Ms. Williams and her children to get to know them.

Senator Thurmond, who died in June at the age of 100, was known for his segregationist policies, although his views changed later in his career and he came to support a federal holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Ms. Williams said Mr. Thurmond privately acknowledged her as his daughter and had provided financial support during much of her life. She says he arranged to meet with her about once a year. Their first visit was in South Carolina when she was 16.

Ms. Williams is a retired teacher who lives in Los Angeles. She says she has four children, 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.