Albert Watson (South Carolina)

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Albert William Watson, Sr.
Albert W. Watson.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 2nd district
In office
June 15, 1965 – January 3, 1971
Preceded by Himself
Succeeded by Floyd Spence
In office
January 3, 1963 – February 1, 1965
Preceded by Corinne Boyd Riley
Succeeded by Himself
Member of the
South Carolina House of Representatives
from Richland County
In office
January 10, 1961 – January 8, 1963
In office
January 11, 1955 – January 13, 1959
Personal details
Born (1922-08-30)August 30, 1922
Sumter, Sumter County
South Carolina, USA
Died September 25, 1994(1994-09-25) (aged 72)
Columbia, Lexington County

South Carolina

Resting place Crescent Hill Memorial Gardens and Mausoleum in Columbia, South Carolina
Political party Democratic (1955-1965)
Republican (1965-1994)
Residence Columbia, South Carolina
Alma mater North Greenville Junior College

University of South Carolina School of Law

Profession Attorney
Religion Southern Baptist
Military service
Service/branch United States Army Air Corps
Rank Weather Specialist
Battles/wars World War II

Albert William Watson (August 30, 1922 – September 25, 1994) was a Democrat-turned-Republican state and U.S. representative best known for his losing 1970 campaign for governor of South Carolina.


Watson was born to Mr. and Mrs. Claude Watson, Sr., in Sumter in central South Carolina[1] but was reared in the state capital of Columbia in Lexington County, where he attended public schools. He subsequently enrolled at the former North Greenville Junior College in Greenville, South Carolina. During World War II, Watson served as a weather specialist in the United States Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the Air Force. In 1950, he graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law and thereafter opened his legal practice in Columbia. In 1954, he was elected from Richland County to the South Carolina House of Representatives, which he served from 1955 to 1958 and again from 1961 to 1962.[2]

In 1958, Watson lost the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor to Burnet Maybank, Jr., son of former U.S. Senator Burnet Maybank. In 1961, Watson returned to the state House for a final two-year term.[2]

In 1948, Watson married the former Lillian Audrey Williams (born 1926), and the couple had three children, Albert Watson, Jr., Kimberly C. Watson, and Clark P. Watson. Himself a Southern Baptist deacon,[2][3] Watson had a twin brother, Allan R. Watson (1922-2001), a minister in that denomination who served as the pastor of churches in Florida and Alabama and preached at the White House in September 1969.[4] A second brother, Claude Watson, Jr., of Columbia, died in 2003.

Congressional career[edit]

In 1962, Watson first ran for South Carolina's 2nd congressional district seat in the U.S. House to fill the opening created when the temporary Democratic representative, Corinne Boyd Riley of Sumter, did not seek a full term. She had succeeded her husband, John J. Riley, who died in office on January 1, 1962.[5] Watson secured the Democratic nomination and then faced Floyd Spence, a fellow state representative from neighboring Lexington County who had turned Republican a few months earlier. The ensuing general election was far closer than expected, with Watson winning by only five percentage points, with crucial support from his mentor, U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond. The Columbia-based district was the first in the state to come under growing Republican influence.

Like Thurmond, Watson was a segregationist. Both supported Barry Goldwater's campaign for President. While Watson headed the South Carolina "Democrats for Goldwater" organization, Thurmond went as far as switching parties and becoming a Republican on September 17, 1964. Partly because of his support for Goldwater, Watson was reelected without opposition as Goldwater carried South Carolina, the first Republican to have done so since Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876. However, the House Democratic Caucus stripped Watson, along with Representative John Bell Williams of Mississippi, of his seniority for supporting Goldwater. Watson then resigned from Congress on February 1, 1965. He then announced that he would run in the special election for his old seat on June 15, 1965--as a Republican.

As the lone Republican candidate in the special election, Watson carried the backing of Floyd Spence, Strom Thurmond, and former Governor James F. Byrnes. The Democrats nominated Preston Harvey Callison, a state representative from Lexington County who described himself as a "Mendel Rivers Democrat," a reference to L. Mendel Rivers, the long-time chairman of the House Armed Services Committee from South Carolina. Later president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention and a long-time counsel for the South Carolina Hospital Association, Callison was considered "moderate" because he urged compliance with the Civil Rights Act, which U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson had signed into law on July 2, 1964. By contrast, Watson equated the Civil Rights Act to the supremacy of minority rights over those of the southern white majority.[6]

Elder Democratic figure Byrnes, who had endorsed Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower for president in 1952, branded the caucus action in which Watson lost his seniority as "punishment and humiliation" and urged voters to return Watson to Congress as the newest Republican member. Watson secured $20,000 and the services of a Republican field representative in what he termed "quite a contrast" to his treatment by House Democrats.[7]

Watson won the special election with 59.1 percent of the vote[8] to become the first Republican to represent South Carolina in the House since 1896, and the first Republican to win an undisputed House election in the state since Reconstruction. He was comfortably reelected in 1966 and 1968. Watson's opposition to civil rights legislation exceeded that of most other Southern Republicans. For instance, he was the only House Republican to vote against the Jury Selection Act of 1968, a civil rights measure intended to eliminate racial discrimination in jury selection.

Watson v. West[edit]

In 1970, Watson won the Republican gubernatorial nomination with a major assist from Thurmond. He then faced strong competition from the Democratic nominee, Lieutenant Governor John C. West, originally from Camden. Watson's continuing support for segregation caused many within his own party to shy away from his candidacy. Not a single daily newspaper endorsed Watson for governor but he obtained "the neutrality" of the Charleston News & Courier, which after the election urged the establishment of the two-party system.[9] In its endorsement of West, the Columbia State, edited by the 1962 Republican senatorial nominee, W. D. Workman, Jr., said that the Democratic nominee had "articulated a far more specific platform than any of his rivals -- at least with respect to state issues," but the paper questioned how West could fund promised teacher pay increases. The State also urged the election of more Republicans to the South Carolina General Assembly.[10]

The Anderson Independent ridiculed Watson for having been "unable to fault the state administration on any real issues" and had therefore "sent posthaste for 'Spiro the Lip' (a reference to Vice President Spiro T. Agnew) and young David Eisenhower (President Nixon's son-in-law) to come running to the rescue."[11] West discouraged out-of-state endorsements and relied instead on U.S. Senator Ernest F. Hollings, the Democratic members of the South Carolina congressional delegation, and Governor Robert E. McNair, who termed West "my right arm in government."[12]United Methodist clergyman Angus McKay Brabham endorsed West and claimed that Watson carried the backing of various members of the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society.[13]

Hastings Wyman, an attorney from Aiken, took leave from his position as an aide to Senator Thurmond to serve as Watson's campaign manager. Wyman was later an assistant to United States Secretary of Commerce Frederick B. Dent. Wyman is the founding editor of the Southern Political Report, a non-partisan biweekly newsletter that covers the politics and politicians of thirteen southern states, including Kentucky and Oklahoma.[14]

Racial politics[edit]

During his public career, John C. West avoided racial animosities, denounced the Ku Klux Klan in 1958, and supported all of the Democratic presidential nominees. In 1963, West addressed a testimonial dinner for Roy Wilkins, long-term executive director of the NAACP. West was primarily identified with such matters as industrial recruitment, health, education, and the environment. His low-key style made him appear bland in contrast to the assertive, flamboyant, and sometimes combative Watson.[15]

In February 1970, Albert Watson told a "freedom-of-choice" rally in Lamar in Darlington County to ignore those who call you "racist, bigot, and hard-core rednecks."[16] A few days later white militants in the area, armed with baseball bats and ax handles, tipped over two school buses in defiance of a desegregation order; though no one was injured, tear gas was used to restore order. Watson was seen by many as a bystander to the events.[17]

Undaunted, Watson adopted the slogan "Your Kind of Man", which some equated with racial overtones. The New York Times quoted a white trucker as having remarked, "Only one man is standing up for the white folks, and that's Albert Watson."[18] Watson vowed to oppose court-ordered desegregation on the basis of quotas, while West warned that no "reasonable alternative to compliance" was any longer feasible.[19]

Watson proved unable to lock up the George C. Wallace base in South Carolina. Former State Representative Alfred W. "Red" Bethea of Dillon secured the American Independent Party gubernatorial nomination. Bethea claimed that Wallace was sympathetic to his candidacy, but Wallace was himself successfully seeking a third nonconsecutive term as governor of Alabama that year and took no part in the South Carolina campaign.[20] Frank B. Best, Sr., of Orangeburg, the 1968 Wallace campaign manager in South Carolina, endorsed Watson, having objected to West's early backing of Hubert H. Humphrey in the presidential race that year. West had called Humphrey "a real friend of the South though he has had no credit for it."[21] Other Wallace leaders backed West, who led in ten of the twelve counties that Wallace had carried in 1968.[22]

Watson ran television advertisements featuring scenes from riots which occurred five years earlier in Watts, Los Angeles. The spots became so controversial that the Republican mayor of Greenville, R. Cooper White, Jr., cited them in his refusal to endorse Watson.[23] White's criticism alarmed Republicans who feared that Watson had painted himself into a minority ultra-conservative position. The Florence Morning News accused Watson of waging a "negative campaign" focusing on "those who stand for racial segregation above all else." The newspaper labeled the racial issue "phoney," claiming that Watson as governor would be "unable to turn back the clock ... and is powerless to defy the federal courts."[24]

Stressing "quality education" amid desegregation, Watson promised "some hope to our beleaguered students, teachers, and parents." He praised President Nixon for having opposed "busing for racial balance" and for having supported "neighborhood schools." He accused the Democrats of "surrender on the issue" of forced busing. West claimed that politics should be removed from the desegregation question and pledged never to "inflame or polarize class against class, rich against poor, or color against color," adding that the days of "magnolias, segregation, and discrimination" were history.[25]

In the fall of 1970, the campaign focused on racial unrest at institutions such as A.C. Flora High School in Forest Acres in Richland County. Watson questioned why a pupil was merely suspended for five days after striking a teacher; to Watson, the action was "not punishment but a reward. ... Education without discipline is worse than no education at all."[26]The Columbia Record dismissed discipline as a problem and stressed an "egalitarian philosophy ... that lifts the dignity of all individuals, rather than aristocratically elevating the few."[27] The Spartanburg Journal urged Watson to omit desegregation from campaign discussions and instead to accent matters over which a governor would have more direct control."[28]

When denounced as a "racist," Watson replied that he had raised funds for the historically black Allen University in Columbia and had as a congressman named several African American applicants to the national military academies. "Apparently, it is not racism for the other side to make deals to get the bloc vote, but it is racism to tell the people ... the truth about these deals," Watson replied.[29] Republican State Chairman Raymond Alexander Harris claimed that Democratic officeholders in South Carolina essentially owed their existence to support from black voters.[9]

Gubernatorial campaign issues[edit]

The textile question played a role in West's election, as thousands of mill workers who had strayed from the Democratic Party to support Richard M. Nixon or George C. Wallace returned to their ancestral political home.[30] Each party blamed the other for the failure to obtain import restrictions. Democrats expressed alarm that textile workers were losing jobs as plants were unable to compete on the world market. Democrats urged President Nixon through executive orders to curtail clothing imports from the Far East; Republicans insisted that only Congress had the legal authority to limit the importation of man-made fabrics. Presidential counselor Harry S. Dent, Sr., of South Carolina, another former aide to Strom Thurmond[31] and the liaison official between the White House and the state GOP organizations, said that the administration was meeting with foreign competitors to devise voluntary restraints. Dent said that Nixon was pledged to veto bills with quotas on any item except textiles.[32]

Democrats charged that the opposition would spend $1.25 million in the 1970 campaign, compared to $350,000 for West and his lieutenant governor nominee, Earle Morris, Jr., of Pickens. State law at the time did not require financial disclosure, but it seems certain that the Watson-West race was the first in the state in which total party expenditures exceeded $1 million.[33]

Some viewed the South Carolina campaign as a referendum on President Nixon. According to the Anderson Independent, "Surely, the people will not be tricked again by the political snake oil salesman now occupying the White House," citing unfulfilled promises of "freedom-of-choice" on school desegregation and textile import relief.[34]The Greenville News perceived the contest as a litmus test of whether South Carolina would be aligned with the Upland South or remain the easternmost of the Deep South states. The Upland or Upper South stressed economic development, education, health, and employment, whereas the Deep South was seen as race-conscious and status-quo oriented.[35] As the campaign ended, the Greenville News declared that West's victory moved South Carolina into the "Upper South" tier of states.[36]

West accused Watson of making "reckless charges" without offering positive solutions: "I get resentful ... at those who talk down our state and have no positive plans or platform."[37]

Watson's running mate was James Marvin Henderson, Sr.,[38] an advertising executive from Greenville, former assistant Postmaster General of the United States, and the father-in-law of later U.S. Senator (since resigned) Jim DeMint of South Carolina, questioned West's rhetoric: Why, he asked, had family income in South Carolina declined over the previous two decades from 45th to 47th position nationally? Henderson also noted that average wages were higher in North Carolina or Georgia than in South Carolina.[39]

First District Republican Chairman James B. Edwards, an oral surgeon from Charleston, claimed that West had worked covertly in 1969 against the nomination of Clement Haynsworth to the United States Supreme Court. The Nixon nominee failed in the U.S. Senate, fifty-five to forty-five, on grounds of alleged bias against organized labor. Edwards predicted that West would install "an ultra-liberal, minority-dominated state government," citing the nominees ties to Hubert Humphrey and Roy Wilkins.[40]

Edwards' principal political experience had been an unsuccessful race for Congress in 1971 against the Democrat Mendel Jackson Davis. In 1975, Edwards became West's successor as governor, the first Republican of the 20th century in the position. Despite the rhetoric of the 1970 campaign, West and Edwards later set aside partisan differences and became warm friends. In 1981, Edwards joined the incoming Ronald W. Reagan administration as secretary of energy at the time that West was stepping down as United States Ambassador to Saudi Arabia in the Carter administration.

West and Watson argued as well over lesser issues, such as state aid for municipal sewer projects, a state college for Rock Hill, and anti-pollution guidelines.[41] Watson vowed if elected to sell the $600,000 governor's jet, which cost more than $150,000 per year to operate, but West countered that the plane is needed for industrial recruitment.[42]

1970 election results[edit]

Official results gave West 251,151 votes (52.1 percent) to Watson's 221,236 (45.9 percent). Red Bethea of the American Independent Party polled 9,758 votes (2 percent). West polled pluralities in thirty-six of the forty-six counties. Watson fared best in Lexington County (61.7 percent), Aiken (54.5 percent), Colleton (54.4 percent), Darlington (54.2 percent), Greenville (52.1 percent), Newberry (50.5 percent), Sumter (50.4 percent), Florence (49.8 percent), and Lee and Saluda (both 49.6 percent). In Charleston and Richland counties, Watson received 45.9 and 43.9 percent, respectively.[43]

African American voters in 1970 numbered 206,394, or 46 percent of the African American voting-age population and 35 percent of the total registration. In Columbia's Ward 9, heavily black, Watson polled 79 votes, compared to West's 1,066. About half of the white voting-age population was registered, and a majority favored Watson.[44][45] Watson lost some precincts which Nixon had won in 1968. In one Columbia precinct in which Nixon polled 667 votes to Humphrey's 132 and Wallace's 69, West led Watson, 433-410. Watson's loss was sealed by weak showing in the textile centers and the capital county of Richland.[46]

For lieutenant governor, the results were similar. Earle Morris received 254,745 (53.3 percent) to James Henderson's 216,745 (45.2 percent), and the AIP candidate received the remaining 7,320 votes (1.5 percent). The 1971 legislature would have only half of the Republican representation from 1967, two senators and eleven state representatives.[43][47] Among the Republican legislative winners was future U.S. representative and Governor Carroll Campbell of Greenville. Campbell blamed the media for Watson's defeat: "the state's press made his campaign racist when it knew it was the only way to beat him."[48] Senator Thurmond similarly accused reporters of "painting a false impression" that Watson was racist and explained that such a caricature adversely "affected some of the moderate vote." Thurmond also blamed Nixon's "vacillation" over school desegregation guidelines as another factor in Watson's defeat.[49]

Watson blamed his loss on the low turnout: 482,000. State Republican Chairman Raymond Harris predicted that Watson would have prevailed had the turnout been 550,000. Harris said the GOP had not repudiated African Americans but had to build the party according to its prevailing political philosophy.[50]

Historians consider Watson's gubernatorial campaign to be the last openly segregationist campaign in South Carolina and one of the last in the South as a whole.[51] Ironically, Watson was succeeded in the House by Spence, who had nearly won the seat in 1962. Spence went on to hold the seat for thirty years.

Later years[edit]

In 1971, Thurmond asked Nixon to appoint Albert Watson to the United States Court of Military Affairs, but opposition arose from Democratic U.S. Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, who the next year became Nixon's general election opponent. Nixon retreated from a Senate showdown over the nomination because of civil rights ramifications that would emerge from a confirmation fight.[52] Years later, Thurmond expressed disappointment that Nixon would not pursue the Watson nomination because the former congressman was "so well qualified." In October 1972, Nixon instead named Watson to a one-year appointment which did not require Senate confirmation as special assistant in the Social Security Administration. Watson was charged with streamlining the appeals procedure. Watson later became a Social Security administrative law judge in Columbia, a position from which he subsequently retired.[53]

Watson died in Columbia at the age of seventy-two in 1994 and is interred there at Crescent Hill Memorial Gardens and Mausoleum. His gravestone reads, "Servant of His God, Nation, State and Country." [54] His political legacy was shrouded in what the media called racial issues. According to the Columbia State, most voters, in rejecting Watson for governor, "feared that too much oratory about school problems would aggravate, rather than ease them."[53]

John C. West said that he believed Watson's loss was "inevitable" after the incident in Darlington County because "South Carolina people are basically law-abiding and won't tolerate violence."[55] The Florence Morning News charged that Watson attempted to "mislead voters with emotional appeals and political razzle-dazzle. As long as the Republicans persist in a social-club approach to political organization and candidate selection, the two-party system will not achieve its full effectiveness as a political balance field."[56]

Thereafter Watson's defeat seemed to convince most southern candidates in both parties that they could no longer realistically challenge or undermine the nation's growing commitment to the removal of racial barriers in society.[57]


  1. ^ "Woodmen of the World politicians". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c "Watson, Albert William". Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1775-1971 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1971), p. 1888. Retrieved December 19, 2011. 
  3. ^ The New York Times, November 30, 1969
  4. ^ ""Alabama Southern Baptist Preaches at White House," September 30, 1969". Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  5. ^ "Corinne Boyd Wiley". Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  6. ^ Billy Hathorn, "The Changing Politics of Race: Congressman Albert William Watson and the South Carolina Republican Party, 1965-1970", South Carolina Historical Magazine Vol. 89 (October 1988), p. 230
  7. ^ Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, Vol. 23 (June 18, 1965), p. 1185; Bernard Cosman and Robert J. Huckshorn, eds., Republican Politics: The 1964 Campaign and Its Aftermath for the Party (New York: Praeger, 1968), pp. 147-148
  8. ^ "SC District 2 - Special Election". Retrieved May 30, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b "The Changing Politics of Race," p. 235
  10. ^ Columbia State, November 1, 1970
  11. ^ Anderson Independent, October 18, 1970
  12. ^ The Changing Politics of Race", p, 235
  13. ^ Columbia State and Charlotte Observer, October 15, 1970
  14. ^ "CRWC Tempo, January 2010". Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  15. ^ Numan V. Bartley and Hugh D. Graham, Southern Politics and the Second Reconstruction (Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975, pp. 150-153
  16. ^ Columbia State, March 5, 1970; Barone et al., p. 912; Facts on File, XXX (February 26 to March 4, 1970), p. 129
  17. ^ Jack Bass and Walter DeVries, The Transformation of Southern Politics: Social Change and Political Consequences Since 1945 (New York: Basic Books, 1976), p. 262
  18. ^ The New York Times, October 24, 1970, p. 13
  19. ^ The New York Times, November 30, 1969, p. 111; Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, XXVIII (October 23, 1970), p. 2597
  20. ^ "The Changing Politics of Race", p. 233
  21. ^ Florence Morning News and Charlotte Observer, October 12, 1970; Columbia State, April 1, 1968, October 10, 1970; Columbia Record, October 13, 1970
  22. ^ South Carolina Election Commission, 1968 and 1970 election returns; Columbia State, November 11, 1970
  23. ^ The Changing Politics of Race, p. 233
  24. ^ Florence Morning News, October 19, 1970
  25. ^ "The Changing Politics of Race," p. 234
  26. ^ Columbia State, October 6, 1970; Aiken Standard, October 9, 1970; Spartanburg Journal, October 26, 1970
  27. ^ Columbia Record, November 6, 1970
  28. ^ Spartanburg Journal, October 26, 1970
  29. ^ Charlotte Observer, September 22, 1970; The New York Times, October 4, 1970, p. 33; Charleston News & Courier, October 1, 1970
  30. ^ The Greenville News, November 5, 7, 1970; Spartanburg Journal, November 4, 1970
  31. ^ Harry S. Dent, Sr., a South Carolina native, was not related to Commerce Secretary Frederick B. Dent, a native of New Jersey.
  32. ^ "Changing Politics of Race", p. 236
  33. ^ Columbia State, September 17, 1970
  34. ^ Anderson Independent, October 25, 1970
  35. ^ Greenville News, September 11, 1970
  36. ^ Greenville News, November 5, 1970)
  37. ^ Columbia State, October 16, 1970
  38. ^ "James M. Henderson". Retrieved June 4, 2012. 
  39. ^ Greenville News, September 15, 1970
  40. ^ Charleston News and Courier, September 25, 1970
  41. ^ Charleston News and Courier, September 24, 1970; Columbia State and Aiken Standard, September 9, 1970
  42. ^ Charlotte Observer, October 7, 1970; Columbia State, September 9 and October 17, 1970; Aiken Standard, September 9, 1970
  43. ^ a b South Carolina Election Commission, 1970 general election returns
  44. ^ Numan V. Bartley and Hugh D. Graham, Southern Elections: County and Precinct Data, 1950-1972 (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 1978), pp. 386-388
  45. ^ Newsweek LXXVI (November 16, 1970), p. 44
  46. ^ Columbia Record, November 5, 1970; Bass and DeVries, p. 262; David Campbell and Joe R. Feagin, "Black Politics in the South: A Descriptive Analysis," Journal of Politics, XXXVII (February 1975), pp. 134, 158
  47. ^ The Book of the States, 1972-1973, Vol. XIX (Lexington, Kentucky: Council of State Governments, 1972), p. 66
  48. ^ Greenville News, October 30, 1970
  49. ^ Greenville News, October 30, November 7, 1970; Charlotte Observer, Florence Morning News, Columbia State, and Columbia Record, November 7, 1970
  50. ^ Greenville News, November 6, 1970
  51. ^
  52. ^ New York Times, May 26, 1971, p. 22, and May 28, 1971, p. 8
  53. ^ a b "The Changing Politics of Race," p. 240
  54. ^ "Crescent Hill Memorial Gardens and Mausoleum". Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  55. ^ Neal R. Peirce, The Deep South States of America (New York: W.W. Norton, 1974), p. 396
  56. ^ Florence Morning News, November 6, 1970
  57. ^ "The Changing Politics of Race," p. 241
Preceded by
Corinne Boyd Riley
United States Representative from South Carolina's 2nd congressional district

Albert William Watson, Sr.

Succeeded by
Floyd Spence
Party political offices
Preceded by
Joseph O. Rogers, Jr. (1966)
Republican nominee for governor of South Carolina

Albert William Watson, Sr.

Succeeded by
James B. Edwards (1974)