Originally created 02/29/04

Thurmond's daughter speaks about education at fund-raiser



COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Essie Mae Washington-Williams is returning home this weekend, but she doesn't want to talk about her late father, Sen. Strom Thurmond.

The main purpose of Washington-Williams' trip is to give a speech on the importance of education at a fund-raiser at historically black Allen University on Saturday.

But plenty of people are asking her if she is going to meet with Thurmond's family, including her much-younger half brothers and half sisters.

"I don't even want to talk about that," she told the Associated Press on Friday, although she did say a family reunion was planned for the summer.

Late last year Washington-Williams, 78, confirmed long-standing rumors that she was born after Thurmond, then 22, had an affair with a 16-year-old black maid who worked in his family's Edgefield home.

Thurmond, who was 100 when he died in June, never publicly acknowledged Washington-Williams as his daughter, but his family has acknowledged her claim.

Washington-Williams was scheduled to speak Saturday at a $50-per-person banquet as part of the Tom Joyner Foundation Campaign, which raises money for historically black colleges and universities.

The retired schoolteacher is coming to Columbia to start a college lecture series. She is also planning the release of a book about her life to be written by William Stadiem, who has co-written biographies of Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra. A movie will follow, Washington-Williams said.

Washington-Williams has said she was a teenager when she first met Thurmond and he visited her when she was at college in Orangeburg, just south of Columbia. Thurmond often gave Washington-Williams money when she hit hard times.

The former senator was once an avowed segregationist and ran for president in 1948 as a Dixiecrat on the platform of maintaining separate schools for blacks and whites. Washington-Williams said she and her father spoke little of the issue of segregation. She said she didn't go public with the identity of her father because she didn't want to hurt his career.

Washington-Williams toured Columbia on Friday, visiting the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center on the University of South Carolina campus and the South Carolina Statehouse, where a statue of her father stands.

There has been talk about adding her name to the list of Thurmond's children engraved on that monument. Thurmond had four children with his second wife, Nancy. The oldest is 31-year-old Strom Thurmond Jr.

Washington-Williams said she would be honored to be added, but she hasn't asked for it.

"I'm not pushing it," she said Friday. "I'm not pushing anything, matter of fact."