Journalist, author. Workman was born on August 10, 1914, in Greenwood, the son of William D. Workman and Vivian Watkins. Following his 1935 graduation from the Citadel, he was a reporter for the News and Courier in Charleston. On June 10, 1939, he married Rhea Thomas of Walterboro. They had two children. Workman entered the U.S. Army in 1941 and was on active duty for five years during World War II.
After military service, Workman returned to the News and Courier and was the paper’s Columbia-based capital correspondent from 1946 until 1962. By the late 1950s, as a result of his reporting on government, politics, and racial issues throughout the South; his widely syndicated columns; and his frequent appearances as a television commentator, his name recognition in the state was so great that his newspaper byline was simply his initials, “W.D.W.” His conservative political attitudes were similarly known, especially with the 1960 publication of his first book, The Case for the South, which asserted his own views of the constitutionality and wisdom of maintaining racial segregation in the southern states.
In 1962 leaders of the state’s fledgling Republican Party, especially J. Drake Edens, Jr., persuaded Workman to run as a Republican for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Olin D. Johnston. South Carolina Republicans had only rarely nominated candidates for local office, much less statewide. Johnston, a staunch segregationist, was not directly vulnerable on the race issue. Consequently, Workman painted him as a supporter of President John F. Kennedy and intimated that a vote for Johnston was a vote for the invasion of Mississippi by federal troops. Johnston held on to win the election, but Workman’s remarkable forty-four percent of the vote was a clear sign that the Republican Party in South Carolina had become a viable force.
Workman returned to journalistic duties when he joined the editorial department of the Columbia State in 1963, and he served as the paper’s editor from 1966 to 1972. He remained with the State until his retirement in 1979. In 1982 Workman, to the surprise of friends and contrary to the advice of his 1962 campaign manager, Drake Edens, announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor to face the Democratic governor Richard W. Riley. Suffering from a mild form of Parkinson’s disease, Workman waged a lackluster campaign in which he acknowledged that there were few issues. Riley was overwhelmingly reelected, and Workman failed to win any of the state’s forty-six counties.
The 1982 contest marked Workman’s final quest for office, and thereafter his progressive illness began to worsen. He died in Greenville on November 23, 1990, and was buried in Greenlawn Memorial Park in Columbia. His obituary in the State called Workman “a singular influence in establishing a two-party political system in the state.”
Merritt, Russell. “The Senatorial Election of 1962 and the Rise of Two-Party Politics in South Carolina.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 98 (July 1997): 281–301.
Wickenberg, Charles, Jr. “Journalist, GOP Crusader William Workman Dies.” Columbia State, November 24, 1990, pp. A1, A7.
Workman, William D., Jr. Papers. Modern Political Collections, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.