Lumpkin graduated from Ensley High School. In the summer of 1944 his mother, Clara, who worked in the Birmingham Post business office, ordered him to find a summer job and made him aware that the newspaper needed an office boy. He started out pasting together copy from the Weather Bureau and compiling a radio column from station press releases while also running errands for staff writers and editors. For extra money he also took on a delivery route for the rival Birmingham News.
After graduating, Lumpkin enrolled at the University of Alabama. He continued to work as a stringer for the Post-Herald. According to a story told by Gene Duffey for the Football Writers Association of America, he once was assigned to cover the opening of a rubber plant in Tuscaloosa. After spending 20 cents on bus fare and another 5 cents to purchase a copy of the newspaper, he learned that his 15-inch feature had been cut to 2 inches, for which he was paid a rate of 5 cents per inch, meaning he netted a 15 cent loss in the bargain.
In 1950 Lumpkin enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in the Korean War. He married his wife, Peggy before he shipped out. After his discharge in 1953 he returned to the Post-Herald as a sportswriter. He pursued a focus on the human stories behind the sports news and gained the trust of the state's coaching legends and was named "Alabama Sports Writer of the Year" five times. As editor, he mentored generations of other writers, including Paul Finebaum and Rubin Grant. The three of them led a 1981 investigative report into allegations that Alabama Crimson Tide basketball player Bobby Lee Hurt had been offered financial incentives to sign.
Lumpkin served a term as president of the Football Writers Association of America in 1993. He transitioned to semi-retirement in 1994, continuing to contribute a weekly column and a few feature stories until the paper was shut down in 2005. He was inducted into the Alabama Sports Writers Hall of Fame in 1993. The FWAA presented him with the Bert McGrane Award in 1997.
Lumpkin moved to Georgia in 2013 to be closer to his family. He died in 2021 of complications from cancer. He was survived by his wife, Peggy, and three children: Bo, Bill III, and Karen. Another daughter, Kathy followed in his footsteps as a sportswriter. She died in 2007.
- Thomas, Ben (April 5, 2021) "‘A man with the human touch:’ Legendary Alabama sports writer Bill Lumpkin dies at 92." The Birmingham News
- Walsh, Christopher (April 6, 2021) "Legendary Alabama sports writer Bill Lumpkin dies at 92." Sports Illustrated
- Wexler, Landon (April 6, 2021) "Bill Lumpkin, celebrated Alabama sports writer who covered state’s biggest stories, dies at 92." CBS42.com