Strom Thurmond's secret daughter dies at 87 - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Strom Thurmond's secret daughter dies at 87

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

The 87-year-old woman who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her autobiography where she revealed she was former Sen. Strom Thurmond's secret daughter has died, according to her attorney.

Essie Mae Washington-Williams passed away Monday morning.

In 2003, Washington-Williams came out of the shadows with the memoir "Dear Senator" to address her existence that had been long-rumored across the Palmetto State for decades.

Washington-Williams discovered that Thurmond, one of the country's leading segregationists, fathered her with one of the Thurmond family's 16-year-old servants. She was unaware of her father's identity until she was 16 years old.

In the book, she shared memories of Thurmond supporting financially her and when she moved to South Carolina to attend South Carolina State University.

"I visited him many times in Washington DC," said Washington-Williams. "All of those on his staff knew exactly who I was. His financial support was constant during various stages of my life. I knew him beyond his public image."

The then-78-year-old grandmother waited until after Thurmond's death to reveal the news.

Washington-Williams said she spoke to her father many times about his racial views. She said she could never convince him to change -- although he did later in his life.

When she finally stepped into the public spotlight, Washington-Williams said it wasn't for money or fame, but to claim her own heritage.

"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," she said in a news conference. "I am Essie Mae Washington-Williams. And at last, I feel completely free."

After completing her degree, Washington-Williams moved to California and became a school teacher for 30 years.

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