Best known as the illegitimate African-American child of segregationist senator Strom Thurmond, she published her Pulitzer-nominated memoir, Dear Senator, in 2005.
After graduating from high school, she pursued a nursing career in New York City's Harlem neighborhood. She later studied education at the University of Southern California and had a thirty-year career as a Los Angeles schoolteacher.
She was active in the civil rights movement during the 1960s.
She was born to the Thurmond family's sixteen-year-old servant when her biological father, Strom Thurmond, was twenty-two years old. She did not know the identity of her father until she was a teenager. She was raised by her mother, Carrie Butler.
She and Bob Telson were both nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.