Essie Mae Washington-Williams is a biracial woman who stepped forward last year to acknowledge that she was the daughter of the late Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. Her mother, Carrie Butler, was a black maid in the Thurmond family home in South Carolina and was 16 when she gave birth to Washington-Williams. Thurmond saw his daughter about once a year for many years and gave her financial support, according to Washington-Williams.
Washington-Williams waited until after his death a year ago to come forward about her parentage and put an end to decades of silence with a simple dignity, saying, "At last, I feel completely free."
In fact, the Thurmond family has now acknowledged the relationship. This week her name was added to a monument to Thurmond on the statehouse grounds in Columbia, South Carolina, joining the names of the senator's other children.
In an interview this week, the 78-year-old retired teacher who lives in Los Angeles stated that she plans to join the United Daughters of the Confederacy, an organization of descendants of soldiers who fought for the South in the Civil War. In fact, it appears that she is eligible for membership in the organization. Her father was a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a similar group for men. Washington-Williams also plans to apply for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Black Patriots Foundation, which honors black Revolutionary War fighters. One of her two sons will apply to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Washington-Williams is joining the Confederate organization not to honor the soldiers that fought for a Southern way of life dependent on slavery, but to explore her genealogy and heritage, according to a statement by her lawyer, Frank Wheaton. In applying, she claims an honor that can be bestowed only on someone of her lineage, he explained, and hopes to encourage other blacks in a similar position to do the same.
In a statement released by Wheaton, Washington-Williams said: "It is important for all Americans to have the opportunity to know and understand their bloodline. Through my father's line, I am fortunate to trace my heritage back to the birth of our nation and beyond. On my mother's side, like most African-Americans, my history is broken by the course of human events."
The patriot organizations said they do not keep track of the racial makeup of their membership, but Patsy Limpus, President General of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, said she knew of "several" black members in her organization, which claims 170,000 members.
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