Albert Watson (South Carolina)
Albert William Watson (August 30, 1922 – September 25, 1994) was a Democrat-turned-Republican state and U.S. representative from South Carolina. He is best known for his losing 1970 campaign for governor, which has been described as the last openly segregationist campaign.
Albert William Watson, Sr.
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from South Carolina's 2nd district
June 15, 1965 – January 3, 1971
|Succeeded by||Floyd Spence|
January 3, 1963 – February 1, 1965
|Preceded by||Corinne Boyd Riley|
|Member of the |
South Carolina House of Representatives
from Richland County
January 10, 1961 – January 8, 1963
January 11, 1955 – January 13, 1959
|Born||August 30, 1922|
Sumter, South Carolina, U.S.
|Died||September 25, 1994 72) (aged|
Columbia, South Carolina, U.S.
|Resting place||Crescent Hill Memorial Gardens and Mausoleum |
Columbia, South Carolina, U.S.
|Political party||Democratic (1955–1965)|
|Residence||Columbia, South Carolina|
|Alma mater||North Greenville Junior College|
University of South Carolina School of Law
|Branch/service||United States Army Air Forces|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Albert William Watson was born in 1922 to Claude Watson, Sr. and his wife in Sumter in central South Carolina. His family moved and he was reared near 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 Forces, the forerunner of the U.S. 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.
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.
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. A Southern Baptist deacon, Watson had a twin brother, Allan R. Watson (1922-2001), who was a Baptist minister and served as the pastor of churches in Florida and Alabama. He preached at the White House in September 1969. A second brother, Claude Watson, Jr., of Columbia, died in 2003.
In 1962, Watson first ran for South Carolina's 2nd congressional district seat in the U.S. House to fill the opening created when fellow Democrat John J. Riley died on New Year's Day. His wife, Corinne Boyd Riley, had won a special election to serve out the remainder of the term, but did not run for a full term in November. After securing the Democratic nomination, Watson 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. He received crucial support from his mentor, U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond. The Columbia-based district had been one of the first areas in the state to come under Republican influence; it had voted for Richard Nixon in 1960.
Like Thurmond, Watson was an open and unashamed 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. The House Democratic Caucus stripped Watson of his seniority for supporting Goldwater. Another Deep South congressman, John Bell Williams of Mississippi, lost his seniority for supporting Goldwater as well. Declaring he would "not sit around and be bullied by northern liberals," Watson 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. Byrnes, the elder statesman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, branded the loss of Watson's seniority as "punishment and humiliation." He 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.
Watson won the special election with 59.1 percent of the vote 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. It was a different Republican Party in the South, however, as in 1965 most blacks in South Carolina were still effectively disenfranchised. Watson 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
In 1970, Watson opted not to run for reelection, instead announcing his candidacy for governor. As a measure of how weak the Republicans were in South Carolina for most of the post-Reconstruction era, in most elections since losing the governorship in 1892 they hadn't even fielded a candidate. He won the nomination with a major assist from Thurmond. He faced strong competition from the Democratic nominee, Lieutenant Governor John C. West, originally from Camden. State and national Republicans were somewhat cool toward Watson because of his obstinate support for segregation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was intended to end segregation, and enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 meant that African Americans were re-entering the political system. Not a single daily newspaper endorsed Watson for governor but he obtained "the neutrality" of the Charleston News & Courier. After the election it urged the establishment of a two-party system. 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.
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." 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."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.
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.
During his public career, John C. West avoided racial animosities, denounced the KKK 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.
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." 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 by police to restore order. Watson was seen by many as a bystander to the events.
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." 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.
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 successfully seeking a third nonconsecutive term as governor of Alabama that year; he took no part in the South Carolina campaign. 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." Other Wallace leaders backed West, who led in ten of the twelve counties that Wallace had carried in 1968.
Watson ran television advertisements featuring scenes from riots which occurred five years earlier in Watts, Los Angeles. The use of the spots became so controversial that the Republican mayor of Greenville, R. Cooper White, Jr., cited them in his refusal to endorse Watson. 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."
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.
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 suspended for just 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."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." 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."
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 appointed 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. Republican State Chairman Raymond Alexander Harris claimed that Democratic officeholders in South Carolina essentially owed their existence to support from black voters.
Gubernatorial campaign issues
The textile question played a role in West's election, as thousands of mill workers who had strayed from the Democratic Party to support George C. Wallace's independent candidacy returned to their ancestral political home. 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 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.
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.
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.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. As the campaign ended, the Greenville News declared that West's victory moved South Carolina into the "Upper South" tier of states.
Watson's running mate was James Marvin Henderson, Sr., 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.
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.
Edwards' principal political experience had been an unsuccessful race for Congress in 1971 against the Democrat Mendel Jackson Davis. In 1975, Edwards was elected as West's successor as governor; he was the first Republican of the 20th century in the position, in what unfolded as a major realignment of political parties in the South. Despite the rhetoric of the 1970 campaign, West and Edwards later set aside partisan differences and became warm friends. In 1981, Edwards was appointed as the Secretary of Energy in the Ronald W. Reagan administration 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. 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.
1970 election results
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.
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. 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.
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. 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." 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.
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.
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. 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.
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." 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."
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.
In 1971, Thurmond asked Nixon to appoint Albert Watson to the United States Court of Military Appeals, but Democratic U.S. Senator George McGovern of South Dakota opposed him. The next year McGovern 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. 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 was appointed as a Social Security administrative law judge in Columbia, a position from which he subsequently retired.
Watson died in Columbia at the age of seventy-two in 1994. He is interred there at Crescent Hill Memorial Gardens and Mausoleum. His gravestone reads, "Servant of His God, Nation, State and Country." 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."
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- Harry S. Dent, Sr., a South Carolina native, was not related to Commerce Secretary Frederick B. Dent, a native of New Jersey.
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|U.S. House of Representatives|
Corinne Boyd Riley
| United States Representative from South Carolina's 2nd congressional district
Albert William Watson, Sr.
|Party political offices|
Joseph O. Rogers, Jr. (1966)
| Republican nominee for governor of South Carolina
Albert William Watson, Sr.
James B. Edwards (1974)