Family admits Thurmond fathered servant's child

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The Independent US

The family of Strom Thurmond has admitted that the former senator and presidential candidate, one of the South's most prominent segregationists, fathered an illegitimate mixed-race child with a black servant at the family home in South Carolina in the mid-1920s.

A statement issued by the family yesterday "acknowledged the heritage" of Essie Mae Washington-Williams, 78, a retired teacher living in Los Angeles. After a lifetime of silence, she went public at the weekend with the claim that she was the daughter of the former senator, who died in June aged 100.

The family, by issuing a swift response, has pre-empted what might have been an embarrassing press conference scheduled for today, in which Ms Washington-Williams planned to discuss her heritage in more detail.

The admission by the Thurmond family confirms a story which has been circulating for decades and which, had it come out in Mr Thurmond's heyday, might have damagedhis political career. Nonetheless, it came as a distinct surprise to Ms Washington-Williams. Frank Wheaton, her lawyer, said: "She was surprised, like I was. We expected them to reject the claim. Frankly, I thought we had a big fight on our hands. It took courage for the Thurmond family to come forward and admit this. This is a happy ending for all concerned."

Though she has experienced financial difficulties, Ms Washington-Williams said she was not seeking money from her father's estate. Her goal has been "to set history straight" and meet the wishes of her own four children.

The episode inevitably has prompted comparison with the alleged sexual relationship between Thomas Jefferson, the third President, and his slave Sally Hemmings.

Both liaisons represented a "deep and ugly southern tradition", according to the Rev Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader, who added that Mr Thurmond "never acknowledged his daughter and fought for laws that kept his daughter segregated".