Collection Highlight: The Photographs of William D. Workman, Jr.

SCPC recently applied for a grant to digitize the photographs in the William D. Workman, Jr. Papers. We are excited about the possibility of being able to improve access to these fascinating images and wanted to highlight a few of them on the blog.

William D. Workman, Jr. was a well-known South Carolina journalist, newspaper editor, and talented photographer. His career as a newspaperman made him a household name throughout the state, and his book The Case for the South provided an important argument in defense of segregation. Although unsuccessful, Workman’s 1962 bid to become one of South Carolina’s US Senators created the skeleton of a statewide Republican Party in what was then a solidly Democratic state.

The Workman Papers are remarkable for their breadth and depth on a number of important issues. The collection’s strengths include civil rights, race relations, politics, and the creation of the Savannah River Plant nuclear facility. These and other themes are represented not just in the textual material in the collection, but in the photographs and other audiovisual materials, as the images below illustrate.

 

Cromwell Alley slum

Tenants and a “rent instalment man” on the porches of a building in Cromwell Alley, 1938.

Tenants and a “rent instalment man” on the porches of a building in Cromwell Alley, 1938.

In about 1938, a slum in Charleston’s Cromwell Alley was cleared to make way for a federally funded low-income housing project. The slum tenants were African American, while the housing project would be occupied by whites. Workman’s images of the slum illustrate a number of themes, including the institutional racism then common across the South, severe urban poverty during the Great Depression, and the role of the federal government in urban development.

 

Mullins Tobacco Festival

“Kneeling, Gov. Strom Thurmond, standing back of him in a dark suit, Marcus A. Stone [unsuccessful candidate for governor (1946) and US Senate (1948)]; at right – dark suit – Sen. Burnet R. Maybank.” Child seated on tobacco is William Charles Harrington, grandson of tobacco barn owner W. P. Clark. August 1947.

“Kneeling, Gov. Strom Thurmond, standing back of him in a dark suit, Marcus A. Stone [unsuccessful candidate for US Senate (1948)]; at right – dark suit – Sen. Burnet R. Maybank.” Child seated on tobacco is William Charles Harrington, grandson of tobacco barn owner W. P. Clark. August 1947.

The City of Mullins was once home to South Carolina’s largest tobacco market. The above image was taken during the Mullins Tobacco Festival. It illustrates the importance of agriculture to many rural communities in the post-World War II period, as well as the way in which politicians interacted with potential voters.

 

The Dixiecrat movement

Former Alabama Lieutenant Governor Handy Ellis speaks at a States’ Rights Rally in Birmingham, July 17, 1948.

Former Alabama Lieutenant Governor Handy Ellis speaks at a States’ Rights Rally in Birmingham, July 17, 1948.

Following World War II, South Carolina remained a solidly Democratic state, and its African American residents continued to be effectively disenfranchised and treated as second-class citizens. In 1948, the national Democratic Party’s support of civil rights for African Americans led a number of white southerners to support the short-lived States’ Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrats). This party was an early sign of the splintering that ultimately led to the rise of the Republican Party and the development of two-party systems in southern states previously controlled by Democrats.

 

Savannah River Plant construction

A woman and a man talk in a mobile home park near the Savannah River Plant site, c. 1951.

A woman and a man talk in a mobile home park near the Savannah River Plant site, c. 1951.

Plans for the Savannah River Plant (SRP), a facility for manufacturing weapons-grade nuclear material, were publicly announced in November 1950. A large number of workers were needed to build the plant, but little housing was available near the rural site. This led to a growth in mobile home parks as a housing solution for some construction workers and their families. Workman’s images of the construction workers’ housing, early SRP buildings, and the communities that were evacuated to make way for the plant illustrate the Cold War’s impact on American civilians.

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