Washington-Williams welcome, group says
By LAUREN MARKOE
July 1, 2004
The biracial daughter of the late Strom Thurmond is pursuing membership in the United Daughters of the Confederacy — a group founded to honor the memory of those who fought for the South in the Civil War.
Essie Mae Washington-Williams will make the application based on her relationship to Thurmond, whose ancestors fought for the Confederacy.
Male members of her family also will seek to join the Sons of Confederate Veterans, of which Thurmond was a member, said Frank Wheaton, her attorney.
“Through my father’s line, I am fortunate to trace my heritage back to the birth of our nation and beyond,” Williams said in a statement.
“On my mother’s side, like most African-Americans, my history is broken by the course of human events.”
To join the Confederate group, Washington-Williams must show she is related by blood to descendants of men or women who served honorably in the Army, Navy or Civil Service of the Confederate States of America or gave material aid to the cause.
Washington-Williams, 78, came forward in December as the unacknowledged daughter of the late senator, who ran for president in 1948 as a segregationist but later abandoned that position. Her mother, Carrie Butler, was a black maid in the Thurmond family’s Edgefield home.
As Thurmond’s daughter, Washington-Williams is also seeking membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Any woman 18 or older, regardless of race, religion, or ethnic background, who can prove she is related by blood to a patriot of the American Revolution, is eligible for membership. The DAR defines a “patriot” as one who provided service or direct assistance in achieving the Colonies’ independence from Great Britain.
The organization, founded to promote patriotism and honor those who fought in the American Revolution, has a checkered racial history.
First lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the group in 1939 after it refused to let black opera star Marion Anderson perform at its famed Constitution Hall.
In an announcement timed for the July 4th holiday, Wheaton said Washington-Williams, a retired Los Angeles teacher, wants her children and grandchildren to connect to all aspects of their heritage — white and black.
She also will pursue a prominent role with the Washington, D.C.-based Black Patriots Foundation, which was formed in 1985 to establish a national memorial to the 5,000 blacks who fought in the Revolutionary War.
Washington-Williams and her family would be welcome to join the United Daughters of the Confederacy or the Sons of Confederate Veterans, members of both organizations said Wednesday.
A spokesman for the DAR said Washington-Williams’ application would be received enthusiastically.
“We have made big strides in growing our diversity in the past 10 years,” DAR spokesman April Watkins said.
The 170,000-member group does not keep track of the race of its members, she said. It receives 12,000 to 17,000 applications a year, and most are accepted.
The Confederate organizations also said they do not keep tabs on the racial makeup of their membership.
Wheaton also said members of Washington-Williams’ family would seek membership in the Sons of the American Revolution, to which Thurmond also belonged.
He said Washington-Williams hopes her participation in the DAR will honor those women who have worked to integrate the group.