"As J. Strom Thurmond has passed away and cannot speak for himself, the Thurmond family acknowledges Ms. Essie Mae Washington-Williams' claim to her heritage. We hope this acknowledgment will bring closure for Ms. Williams," the family's lawyer, J. Mark Taylor, said in a brief statement.
Contacted at his office, Taylor confirmed he was speaking for the Thurmond family but refused to give detail or answer any questions, including whether the family was in fact verifying the claims of Williams, a 78-year-old retired teacher who lives in Los Angeles.
"The statement speaks for itself," Taylor said.
A message left for U.S. Attorney Strom Thurmond Jr. was not immediately returned. Thurmond's widow, Nancy, said she was not taking calls from the media.
Glenn Walters, an attorney for Williams, said he believes the statement acknowledges Thurmond's paternity, though he hasn't discussed the question with the Thurmond family.
"We are happy that this matter has been resolved. Mrs. Essie Mae Washington-Williams can now take a place in history as a daughter of U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond," Walters said.
Said Frank K. Wheaton, another attorney for Williams: "Ms. Williams shed a sigh of relief. She said 'I'm happy and very much surprised."'
Wheaton had said Saturday that his client was coming forward to claim that the nation's longest-serving senator — and one-time segregationist — was her father. Thurmond died in June at age 100.
Williams was to discuss her story at a news conference Wednesday in Columbia. Wheaton said Williams may not release all her alleged evidence supporting the claim because of the announcement. "There may be no need," he said.
Williams had long been rumored to be Thurmond's child, though she had previously denied it. She came forward now at the urging and encouragement of her children, Wheaton said.
Williams told The Washington Post that Thurmond privately acknowledged her as his daughter and had provided financial support since 1941. She said she waited to go public because she didn't want to embarrass herself or hurt Thurmond's career. The Post first reported her claims on its Web site Saturday.
"There was an agreement between the parties that she would never discuss the fact that Sen. Thurmond was her father," Walters said. He said Williams was not seeking money and did not want to challenge Thurmond's will.
In seven decades of politics, Thurmond gained fame and infamy as an arch-segregationist, but he later came to support a holiday for the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
Williams claims Thurmond fathered her when he was a 22-year-old living in his parents' home in Edgefield. Her mother, Carrie Butler, 16, had been working as a maid in the Thurmonds' home.
Raised by an aunt, Williams told the Post she first met Thurmond around 1941, when she was 16, and Thurmond called her a "very lovely daughter."
She told the newspaper she received money at least once a year in sessions arranged by Thurmond's Senate staff. Wheaton said the total over the years was "very substantial" but less than $1 million.