Essie Mae Washington Williams

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Funeral services for Dr. Essie Mae Washington -Williams were held Saturday, Feb. 9, at Brookland Baptist Church, West Columbia, with entombment in Celestial Memorial Gardens.

Dr. Essie Mae Washington-Williams passed away, at the age of 87, on Sunday, February 3, 2013. She was born in Aiken, South Carolina, on October 12, 1925 to the late Carrie Butler, her natural mother, and the late Senator Strom Thurmond.

She graduated with honors from Scott High School, Coatesville, Pennsylvania. Upon graduating from high school, Dr. Washington-Williams worked as a nurse at Harlem Hospital in New York City, and took a course in business education at New York University.  At the urging of her father, she attended college at South Carolina State University (SCSU), a historically black college. She was a longtime member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, which she joined while at South Carolina State University.

She later met her husband, Julius Thomas Williams, II, who was one of the first graduates from SCSU Law School. They fell in love and later eloped to North Carolina and formed a Christian union.

Upon her husband’s death, Dr. Washington-Williams relocated to Los Angeles, California to raise her four children in 1964. With determination and ambition, she received her Bachelor of Arts Degree from California State College, Los Angeles, where she majored in Business Education and a minored in English. Two years later, she received her Master of Science Degree in Education from the University of Southern California. She was awarded a fellowship through the Department of Education in an experimental program “English as a Second Language” at the University.

Prior to working for the Los Angeles Unified School District, Dr. Washington-Williams taught various subjects in Business Education for three years in the Parochial School System of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.   Starting in 1970 at the Abram Friedman Occupational Center, Dr. Washington-Williams taught business education for 17 years.  She was promoted in 1986 to an Assistant Principal and Counseling Services. She served in this capacity for ten years in various adult schools until her retirement in 1997. She received a number of awards, recognitions, and commendations for her years of commitment to education.

At an early age, she received Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.  In 1965, Mrs. Williams joined the Church of Christian Fellowship under the Reverend James Hargett. She had been a member of the Fellowship League for 34 years and served as a past president.  She also participated at the church as a Sunday School Teacher, Chair of the Board of Public Relations, Lay Reader, and a member of the Child Care Board.   On May 23, 1999, Mrs. Williams was honored on Women’s Day at Christian Fellowship for her loyalty and commitment for 34 years of service.

On December 17, 2003, she shared with the world the secret that she harbored for more than 62 years as the daughter of the late Senator Strom Thurmond.  She later published a best-selling memoir, “Dear Senator”.  The book was nominated for both, a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize and was number eight on the New York Times Best Seller list.

Dr. Washington-Williams was a devoted mother and doting grandmother; she always believed that family came first. Leaving a legacy for her family was the goal she had always wanted to accomplish; a job well done. “I am Essie Mae Washington-Williams, and at last I am completely free.”

Those left to cherish fond and precious memories of Dr. Essie Mae Washington-Williams are:  her son, Dr. Ronald James (Esther) Williams;  daughters, Wanda Williams (Milton) Bailey and Monica Williams (Gerald) Hudgens; fourteen grandchildren; fifteen great-grandchildren; two half-brothers, James S. Thurmond, Jr. and Paul Thurmond; a half-sister, Juliana Witman; cousins, Doug and Ellen; other relatives and friends.

She was preceded in death by a son, Julius Thomas Williams, III.


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