Strom Thurmond Black Daughter – Essie Mae Washington-Williams Wiki

Born on October 12, 1925 and passing on February 4, 2013, Essie Mae Washington-Williams was an American author, writer and teacher.  Best known for being the oldest child of the Governor of South Carolina, Strom Thurmond, who was also one of the longtime Senators of the United States of America, he was known mainly for his very pro-segregation outlook on things, as well as his pro-segregation policies.  Being of mixed race, Essie Mae Washington-Williams mother was named Carrie Butler, who was actually one of the African American girls who would be working as one of the household servants for the parents of Essie’s father, the Thurmond family.  Thurmond, who was at the time of Essie’s birth only 22 years old, was not married at the time of Essie’s birth. 

It is because of this interracial mix of parents, that Essie Mae Washington-Williams was able to grow up with one of the family members of her mother, which would be Essie’s aunt.  Since she was living with her mother’s sister, Essie Mae would not know the truth about her regular parents until sometime later.  In fact, she would have no idea about her biological parents for several years, eventually finding out about them in 1938 when her biological mother would come out for a visit.  It would be at this time that her mother would inform Essie Mae that she was in fact her mother.  Moving forwards, Essie Mae would end up going to college and graduating, earning herself a master’s degree, starting her career in education, getting married, and eventually having and raising a family of her own.

It would not be until Essie Mae was 78 years old that she would come out and identify who her real biological father actually was, that only happening after Thurmond had died at the old age of 100 years old in 2003.  Although Thurmond did not really play any part in Essie Mae’s upbringing, he would end up paying for her college education, as well as begin taking an interest in her, as well as her family, all of his life.  A couple years later in 2005, Essie Mae would go on to publish her own autobiography, titled ‘Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond’, which was so well written that it would end up being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, as well as the National Book Award.  Here is everything that you would want to know about the life and times of Essie Mae Washington-Williams.

Essie Mae Washington-Williams:  The Early Years

Essie Mae was originally born to Carrie Butler, who was only about 15 or 16 years old when her daughter would be born.  Strom Thurmond would at the time, be 22 years old.  Since Carrie Butler actually worked as one of the domestic servants for the Thurmond parents, she was forced to keep the news that she had their son’s daughter a secret, forcing her to send Essie Mae to go and live with her older sister who was living in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, with her husband who was named John Henry Washington.  What this means, is that Essie Mae was not able to live in South Carolina with her biological parents.  While Essie Mae’s biological mother did not officially name her, she would end up getting the name Essie after one of Carrie’s other sisters, who helped out and fostered her for a brief time when she was only an infant. 

Essie Mae would have the privilege to grow up with her cousin, who was seven years older than she was and was believed to be her half-brother.  Essie Mae would not know the true identity of her biological parents until she was several years old, that information coming to her in 1941, when Essie Mae was 16 years old.  She would find out when her mother would come out to visit her and explain everything to her, followed by taking her to actually meet her biological father, Thurmond, in person.

After the initial meeting with her biological father, Essie Mae and her mother would only occasionally see Thurmond, even though they would stay in contact with each other for many years later.  Once Essie Mae completed high school, she would start working as a nurse in New York City, at the Harlem Hospital, as well as take a course at the New York University on business education.

Essie Mae would decide that she did not want to visit the segregated South until the year 1942, doing so in order to meet some of her relatives that lived in Edgefield.  Growing up in Pennsylvania, Essie Mae would be shocked by all of the racial restrictions that the South had in place towards African Americans.  She would later return to the north so that she was able to live with some of her relatives while the war was going on.  Once Thurmond had returned from World War II, Essie Mae would decide to start going to college at SCSC, also known as the all-black South Carolina State College, during the fall semester of 1947. 

While he was not necessarily around for most of her life, Essie Mae’s biological father, Thurmond, would be the one who would pay for her entire college education, but did so quietly.  Essie Mae would go on to meet and get married to the future lawyer that she would meet at SCSC in 1948, his name being Julius Williams.  They would soon have a child together just one year later in 1949, naming him Julius Williams Jr.  As a result, from having her first child while still attending college, Essie Mae would make the difficult decision to drop out of college in order to focus her efforts on raising her first child, who would become one of four children in total.

Essie Mae Washington-William’s Career

It would be during the late 1950s-60s that would bring Essie Mae to try and discuss racism with her biological father, Thurmond, who was very well-known for his long-held belief and support of segregation, but her pleas would fall upon deaf ears as Thurmond would simply brush his biological daughter’s complaints off and would continue with his political viewpoints.  Even though Thurmond would never officially change his stance on segregation, Essie Mae would feel as though she was making a change in her biological father through the private conversations that they would have together about race and race relations, that Thurmond’s policies were changed as a result of her.  For example, in 1976, Thurmond would nominate Matthew J. Perry, who was somebody that Essie Mae actually dated back in 1947 before she met her first husband in college, to hold a seat with the US Court of Military Appeals.  This move would make Thurmond the very first Southern senator to nominate an African American for any type of federal judgeship.

After Essie Mae’s husband would pass in 1964, she would decide to pick up her life and move herself out to Los Angeles, California.  It would be here where she would have the opportunity to finally go back to college and complete her undergraduate studies, receiving a bachelor’s degree from the California State University located in Los Angeles in the year 1969.  She would then go on to earn her master’s degree with an emphasis in education through the University of Southern California.  Once she received her master’s degree in education, she would go on to become a teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District, where she would teach for the next 30 years, her teaching career lasting from 1967 to 1997.  Essie Mae would also be a longtime member of the sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, having joined originally when she was in college at South Carolina State.

The Death of Essie Mae Washington-Williams

Essie Mae Washington-Williams would end up passing on February 4, 2013, at the age of 87.  She would pass while in Columbus, South Carolina.  It is no surprise that Essie Mae was able to live such a full life that would touch so many different people.  Having grown up not knowing who her biological parents were until she was already a teenager must have been hard for her, but she did not let that, or any adversity for that matter, get in her way or stop her from doing what she thought was right for her to do. 

What makes Essie Mae even more impressive, is the fact that she was able to find a career that she truly loved and enjoyed doing, that career being teaching.  It is through her teaching career that Essie Mae was able to share her knowledge and wisdom with that of her students, helping to shape their minds and help each one of them become their own great person.  And while you would think that she would tell everybody that she was the daughter of Thurmond, she did not mention it to anybody until after he had died, further cementing that she was able to accomplish everything she had accomplished in her life by herself.


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