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, 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 politician from South Carolina. Originally a Democrat, in 1965 he became the first Republican in modern times to represent the state in the United States House of Representatives. He is best known for his losing 1970 campaign for governor of South Carolina.

Early career[edit]

During World War II, Watson served as a weather specialist in the United States Army Air Corps. 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.[1] In 1958, Watson lost the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor to Burnet Maybank, Jr., son of a former U.S. senator. In 1961, Watson returned to the state House for a final two-year term.[1]

Congressional career[edit]

In 1962, Watson first ran for South Carolina's 2nd congressional district seat. Five-term incumbent John J. Riley had died in office in 1962, and his wife Corinne Boyd Riley, had served out the remainder of her husband's term.[2] 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. In 1964, Watson was reelected without opposition. However, the House Democratic Caucus stripped Watson, along with Congressman John Bell Williams of Mississippi, of his seniority for supporting Barry Goldwater. Watson then resigned from Congress on February 1, 1965, and sought his former position as a Republican in a special election held on June 15, 1965. Watson won the special election with 69 percent of the vote to become the first Republican to represent South Carolina in the House since 1896, and the first 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, but was normal for Southern Democrats.

In 1970, Watson won the Republican gubernatorial nomination. He then faced strong competition from the Democratic nominee, Lieutenant Governor John C. West. 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.[3] Watson's running mate was James Marvin Henderson, Sr.[4] 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).[5] Watson blamed his loss on the low turnout: 482,000.[6] 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.[7]

Later years[edit]

In 1971, Thurmond asked Nixon to appoint 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.[8] 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.[9]

Watson died in Columbia at the age of seventy-two in 1994 and is interred there at Crescent Hill Memorial Gardens and Mausoleum.[10]


  1. ^ a b "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. 
  2. ^ "Corinne Boyd Wiley". Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  3. ^ The Changing Politics of Race, p. 233
  4. ^ "James M. Henderson". Retrieved June 4, 2012. 
  5. ^ South Carolina Election Commission, 1970 general election returns
  6. ^ Greenville News, November 6, 1970
  7. ^
  8. ^ New York Times, May 26, 1971, p. 22, and May 28, 1971, p. 8
  9. ^ "The Changing Politics of Race," p. 240
  10. ^ "Crescent Hill Memorial Gardens and Mausoleum". Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Floyd Spence
Preceded by
Corinne Boyd Riley
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by
Joseph O. Rogers, Jr.
Republican nominee for Governor of South Carolina
Succeeded by
James B. Edwards