Essie Mae Washington-Williams, a Los Angeles teacher and school administrator who was 87 when she died on Feb. 4, made headlines in December 2003 simply by declaring: “My father’s name was James Strom Thurmond.” It was shortly after the death of the South Carolina Senator, who was famous for much of his public life as a symbol of white resistance to integration. But in the 1920s, when he was 22, Thurmond secretly fathered Washington-Williams with a 16-year-old African-American maid in his family’s home. Though he occasionally sent his daughter money after they met when she was in her teens, he never publicly acknowledged her. She in turn kept their connection secret for decades to avoid jeopardizing his career.
This text originally appeared in the Feb. 18 issue of TIME magazine.
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