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Last Updated: Monday, 15 December, 2003, 16:30 GMT
Thurmond 'has mixed race child'
Strom Thurmond
Strom Thurmond is said to have paid money to his 'daughter'
A 78-year-old mixed race woman in the US is claiming she is the love child of controversial senator Strom Thurmond, who died this year aged 100.

Retired schoolteacher Essie Mae Washington-Williams said her mother was a black maid working for the Thurmond family in South Carolina in the 1920s.

She said Thurmond, a former champion of racial segregation, had privately acknowledged her as his daughter.

Ms Washington-Williams said she had revealed the secret to bring closure.

She had previously denied rumours that the country's longest-serving senator was her father.

Old South

Her attorney Frank K Wheaton told the Associated Press: "She's decided to come forward to bring some closure to what has been thought to be an old family secret.

"We're not trying to upset the Thurmond estate," he said.

We are merely bringing closure to Essie Mae's life, so her children have an opportunity to know from where they come, whether those ancestors are black or white matters not
Frank K Wheaton
She claims Thurmond got her unmarried 16-year-old mother pregnant when he was a 22-year-old living in his parents' home, long before his political career started.

Her mother Carrie Butler later sent the child to live with her aunt and uncle in Pennsylvania.

Thurmond ran for president in 1948 on a ticket of strict racial segregation, before leaving the Democratic party to further the cause. He joined the Senate in 1954.

Years later he softened his tone on the issue of separation of the races, as the so-called Old South faded and the civil rights movement grew in momentum.

Mr Wheaton said Thurmond had provided Ms Washington-Williams with "a very substantial amount" of money over the years, though it amounted to less than $1m.


Ms Washington-Williams and Thurmond are said to have had a conversation in 1947, when he was governor of South Carolina.

"He asked her directly: 'How does it feel to be the daughter of the governor and not be able to tell anyone about it?'" said Mr Wheaton.

"She said it felt fine."

She told the Washington Post, which first revealed her claims on Saturday, that she had waited until now to go public with her story because she did not want to embarrass herself or hurt Thurmond's career.

She is due to travel from her home in Los Angeles, California, to Thurmond's home state of South Carolina on Wednesday for a news conference.

The late senator's widow, Nancy Moore Thurmond, who separated from her husband in 1991 said she could not confirm the claims.

Obituary: Strom Thurmond
27 Jun 03  |  Americas
Strom Thurmond: A life in pictures
27 Jun 03  |  Photo Gallery

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