I, Too, Am An Essie Mae Washington-Williams
When news broke in December 2003 that Essie Mae Washington-Williams finally revealed that she was the biracial daughter of the late Senator Strom Thurmond, I was inspired to share my story. I remember the wire-bound spiral steno pad I used to pen the first few hundred words for what I intended for my first book. Like many other ideas, that one became dormant and remained a mere thought while I pursued other goals and desires and tried to find my place in this world.
Essie Mae’s story became America’s story to tell and retell for months and even years to come. I understand that for decades there had been talk of Thurmond, a devout segregationist, fathering a child from a black woman. After Essie Mae stood behind the podium during a press conference, dressed in a red suit accented with a lavender printed scarf, to introduce herself, the rumor was no more. “My father’s name was James Strom Thurmond,” she said while briefly glimpsing at cameras and reporters, then back at her prepared notes.
Neither Thurmond nor his daughter ever publicly acknowledged their connection; however, they kept in contact over the years. She was a secret, until six months after Thurmond died.
Why I Remained Silent
I, too, am an Essie Mae Washington-Williams – a “secret” child. Whereas she kept quiet to protect her father’s political reputation, I remained silent, to protect my father’s family and because I was woefully embarrassed.
. . . I never publicly acknowledged him as my father.
No, my father wasn’t a politician nor was he white and no, he did not keep in touch with me throughout his life. But like Thurmond, he never publicly acknowledged me as his daughter and unlike Washington-Williams, I never publicly acknowledged him as my father. Yet, he knew I was his child and for the past 34 years, I’ve known he is my father.
Suppressing the Pain
For most of those years, I suppressed the pain although I displayed negative behaviors that, at the time, I didn’t realize were a result of fatherlessness. Those included the self-destructive actions of anger and rebellion.
The Burden of Secrecy
Secrets are a heavy burden and my “daddy secret” was one I was tired of carrying. It was a form of bondage and what I viewed as an unfair, yet unintentional, punishment to hide my parents’ wrong.
Protecting My Peace
Over the past few years, my focus has changed from protecting others to protecting my peace and I’m intentional about not allowing dark secrets or personal problems to preoccupy my thoughts.
I know it’s important to share my story to:
- Rescue other girls and women from the pit of secrecy and get them on the path of freedom
- Let fatherless daughters know they are not alone on this journey
- Help women and girls understand there’s much more to their lives than their story of being fatherless.
Are you a secret child? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a result?