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SURPRISED HE WAS WHITE: Stunner for Strom's kid
By LEO STANDORA
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Strom Thurmond's mixed-race daughter first met him at age 16 and was "surprised" to see that he was white, she says.
"No one ever mentioned anything about his color," Essie Mae Washington Williams laughingly tells Dan Rather on "60 Minutes II" tonight, adding, "I was very happy to meet him."
Williams said her mother brought her to Thurmond's law office in 1941 for their first face-to-face meeting.
Williams, a 78-year-old retiree living in Los Angeles, says the former South Carolina senator - a onetime segregationist - fathered her when he was 22 and living in his parents' home. Her mother, Carrie Butler, 16 at the time, worked as a maid in the Thurmond home.
The Thurmond family has acknowledged the woman's claim.
Although Thurmond tried to keep his secret from the world despite persistent rumors, Williams says he helped support her, sent her through college and had many father-daughter talks with her through the years.
Thurmond openly met her in the president's office of South Carolina State College and once brought her to the governor's mansion for a visit when he was governor of South Carolina.
"His talks were always on health, exercise, nutrition and what I was going to do," she said. "He wanted to know how I was doing in school and so forth."
Williams said she and Thurmond spent time together in Washington, Philadelphia, New York and other cities over the years. "Whenever he'd come, wherever I was living, he would let me know, and then I would arrange to go and see him," she said.
Williams said Thurmond never asked her to hide who her father was. When she once told him "some people were trying to contact her" to ask questions, she quoted Thurmond as saying only, "'You don't have to talk to them.'
But he didn't say anything else beyond that," she said.
Despite his racial politics, Williams said Thurmond was "basically a good man."
She said she once asked him why he was "a racist," and Thurmond replied, "Well, that's the way things have always been."
Williams said her father "really wanted to help people" but in the end, "I guess he did what was best for his career."
Thurmond's son, Strom Thurmond Jr., said yesterday he asked his dad about the rumors 10 years ago but never got an answer, adding, "I did not ask again."
The son said he was looking forward to meeting the retired schoolteacher and establishing a relationship, but plans to do that in private.
Originally published on December 17, 2003
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