Essie Mae Washington-Williams, the mixed-race daughter of arch-segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond, has died at the age of 87. Her mother was a 16-year-old maid working for the Thurmond family in South Carolina when she was impregnated by the man who went on to serve 48 years in the Senate, where he was one of the Civil Rights Act's fiercest opponents. Thurmond kept his daughter's existence secret for more than 70 years; she only came forward after his death in 2003, the AP reports.
Williams, who worked as a schoolteacher in Los Angeles for decades, met her father numerous times over the years and he helped pay her way through college. "It's not that Strom Thurmond ever swore me to secrecy. He never swore me to anything," she wrote in her memoir, Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond. "He trusted me, and I respected him, and we loved each other in our deeply repressed ways, and that was our social contract." Thurmond's son Paul, a South Carolina state senator, said, "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."