Olin Dewitt Talmadge Johnston

68th Governor of the State of South Carolina 1935 to 1939 and 1943 to 1945

Date Born: November 18, 1896

Date Died: April 18, 1965

Place Born: Near Honea Path, SC

Place Buried: Barker's Creek Baptist Church Cemetery in Honea Path, SC

Residence: Spartanburg, SC

Occupation: Lawyer, Sergeant in US Army


Textile Industrial Institute, Spartanburg, SC: Graduated 1915
Wofford College, A.B.: 1921
University of South Carolina, M.A., LL.B.: 1924

South Carolina House of Representatives: 1923-1924, 1927-1930

U.S. Senate: 1945-1965

Johnston was the first battalion commander of Wofford's ROTC
Johnston was defeated in the 1930 Democratic gubernatorial primary by Ibra Charles Blackwood
Johnston served in the U.S. Senate from the time he resigned as governor until his death - 1945-1965

1934 - Johnston was elected governor without opposition, receiving 23,177 votes.

October 28, 1935 – When highway commissioners appointed by past governors refused to leave their legally appointed posts, Governor Johnston declared martial law and mobilized the National Guard to occupy the offices of the Highway Department

1938 – Governor Johnston ran for the U.S. Senate but was defeated by Ellison D. Smith in the Democratic Primary

1942 - Johnston was elected to a second term as governor without opposition, receiving 23,859 votes.

January 3, 1945 – Governor Johnston resigned to become a U.S. Senator


Olin Dewitt Talmadge Johnston, the son of Edwin Andrew Johnston and Leila (Webb) Johnston, was born on November 18, 1896 near Honea Path in Anderson County, SC. His family maintained a farm and worked in the Chiquola Manufacturing Company's textile mill. Johnston's youth was divided between schooling, work on the farm, and work in the mill.

He could attend school only while the family was on the farm, usually in the summer. Johnston eventually enrolled in the Textile Industrial Institute, now Spartanburg Methodist College, in Spartanburg, SC, and here Johnston earned his high school diploma in thirteen months, graduating in 1915. He entered Wofford College in the fall of 1915, where he worked his way through school by holding a variety of jobs, but his studies were interrupted by service in the United States Army during World War I.

Johnston enlisted in the Army National Guard in 1917 and served with the 117th Engineer unit, which was attached to the 42nd Division, the Rainbow Division, in France. He served eighteen months overseas and attained the rank of sergeant.

Following his discharge in June 1919, Johnston returned to Wofford College where he received his Bachelor's degree in 1921. In the fall of 1921, Johnston entered the University of South Carolina where he earned both an M.A. in Political Science in 1923 and an LL.B. in 1924. That same year established the law firm of Faucette and Johnston in Spartanburg.

In December of 1924, Olin Dewitt Talmadge Johnston married Gladys Elizabeth Atkinson, daughter of Everett C. Buchanan Atkinson and Minnie Virginia (Weaver)Atkinson of Spartanburg, and they had three known children.

In 1922, while still attending college, Olin Dewitt Talmadge Johnston was elected as one of six men to represent Anderson County in the House of Representatives of the:
- 75th General Assembly that met from 1923-1924

Johnston stepped down in 1924 to run his law practice.

In 1926, Olin Dewitt Talmadge Johnston was elected as one of seven men to represent Spartanburg County in the House of Representatives of the:
- 77th General Assembly that met from 1927-1928
- 78th General Assembly that met from 1929-1930

Johnston proved a capable and popular campaigner. As a young legislator, Johnston was an advocate of the state's textile mill workers, and his major accomplishment was shepherding a law that required mill owners to install sewers in mill villages.

Olin Dewitt Talmadge Johnston made his first campaign for governor in 1930, and led the slate of candidates in the primary, but lost by around 1,000 votes in the runoff election. Undeterred by the loss, Johnston ran again and was elected Governor of South Carolina in 1934, serving for one term. In his inaugural address of 1935, Johnston stated "This occasion marks the end of what is commonly known as 'ring rule' in South Carolina." Among his achievements as governor were the repeal of the state's personal property tax; the initiation in South Carolina of the country's first rural electrification program, a pilot program personally authorized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt; the $3.00 automobile license plate; and the establishment of the Industrial Commission, Labor Department, Planning and Development Board, and Ports Authority.

On taking office, Johnston proposed a series of bills to aid the state's textile workers. An ardent New Dealer, Johnston managed to push his legislative program through the SC House of Representatives only to meet defeat in the lowcountry-dominated Senate. In what has become the most famous fight between a governor and legislature in South Carolina history, Johnston tried to dismiss a number of members of the powerful State Highway Commission. After the commissioners refused to leave their posts, Johnston mobilized the National Guard to occupy the offices of the Highway Department. Ultimately, Johnston lost his battle with the Highway Commission, and severely wounded his already poor relationship with the legislature. Johnston lost his power to name highway commissioners, a power that the governor's office has never since regained.

In 1935, Gov. Johnston passed the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law to regulate the sale of alcohol in the state following the end of national prohibition. In 1937, he signed the SC Public Welfare Act into law and established a state system for social security, worker's compensation, and unemployment compenation. Where previous governors used the National Guard and martial law to crush strikes, Johnston used both to protect strikers and seal off mill precincts from strikebreakers. He often forced management to accept him as mediator and occasionally found state jobs for strikers whom mills refused to rehire.

Unable to run for re-election in 1938, Johnston challenged "Cotton Ed" Smith for his seat in the U.S. Senate. The race brought national interest, as Smith had developed into an opponent of the New Deal and Johnston was a strong supporter. Smith was one of the senators whom President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to purge. Ultimately, Johnston lost the race to Smith. However, it was widely accepted that Smith was highly unpopular in South Carolina and that Johnston would have won the primary if Roosevelt had not intervened on his behalf or if he had focused on either pleasing the state's influential textile mill owners or preserving racial segregation.

Following President Roosevelt's re-election, Johnston drew more ire from the state's local businessmen when he showed his support for the President's new push for labor reform and outspokenly supported the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. South Carolina U.S. Senator James F. Byrnes, although also an ardent New Dealer, opposed this new push, claiming it would make the state's textile mills uncompetitive. As a result of Johnston's support for new labor reform, Byrnes - a highly popular and influential figure in the state who won re-election in the 1936 Democratic primary by a margin of over 87% - declined to endorse and instead endorsed the re-election of Smith. Following his loss in 1938, Johnston then ran for the U.S. Senate in a 1941 special election to replace Byrnes, who had just been appointed to the Supreme Court, but lost to SC Governor Burnet R. Maybank.

Olin Dewitt Talmadge Johnston was elected governor of South Carolina again in 1942. He won a narrow victory in the Democratic primary, and ran unopposed in the general election. However, he still desired a U.S. Senate seat. The outbreak of World War II meant that labor issues would not be as prominent in Johnston's second term. During this term, Johnston focused more on preserving racial segregation and signed laws which attempted to circumvent the Smith vs. Allwright decision, which declared racially segregated primaries to be unconstitutional, by allowing political parties in the state to operate as private organizations separate from state control and beyond the reach of the U.S. Supreme Court. He served until his resignation on January 3, 1945, the same day he was sworn in as a U.S. Senator, to accept his U.S. Senate seat.

Johnston was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1944, defeating "Cotton Ed" Smith in a rematch of their 1938 race. Johnston was re-elected three times, serving in the U.S. Senate until his death in 1965. Johnston served on the committees on Agriculture and Forestry, District of Columbia, Judiciary, and Post Office and Civil Service. He became chairman of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee in 1950 and gained the nickname "Mr. Civil Service" for his leadership on that committee and dedication to the needs and interests of postal and other federal employees. Johnston also joined with fellow Southerners as part of the conservative Southern Democratic coalition.

Johnston was not as conservative as most other U.S. Senators from the Deep South, retaining a populist position on many economic issues. In the U.S. Senate, Johnston was a staunch advocate of public power, parity programs for farmers, a broad strong social security program, and the provision of lunches to needy school children. He also generally opposed foreign aid, viewing it as support of foreign interests at the expense of American industry and consumers. Unlike most Southern Democrats, Senator Johnston opposed the anti-union Taft-Hartley labor law in 1947 and he voted for both the War on Poverty in his last full year in office, 1964, and for Medicare shortly before his death in 1965. However, like virtually all other politicians from the Deep South during this period, Senator Johnston was orthodox on the "race question", opposing all civil rights legislation.

While not a prominent figure nationally, Johnston was very well-entrenched in his home state. He may be the only Senator to have defeated two future Senators. He retained his seat despite challenges from Strom Thurmond in the Democratic primary in 1950 and Ernest Hollings in the 1962 primary. He then turned aside the first Republican challenger in the journalist W. D. Workman, Jr. In these races Johnston was the more liberal candidate. Hollings, then serving as governor, attacked Johnston as "the tool of the Northern labor bosses", but Johnston defeated Hollings by a 2-1 margin.

Olin Dewitt Talmadge Johnston died on April 18, 1965, following a long battle with cancer. In eulogizing him, his longtime associate, Senator George Aiken of Vermont, noted, "During his entire career in the Senate, he worked for those who needed his help most and whom it would have been easy to ignore and neglect." At the dedication of the Johnston Room at the South Caroliniana Library, Gov. Robert McNair described Johnston as "a working man, and those who made his public life possible were working people....He was a man of conviction who arrived at a time when hard decisions had to be made."

Johnston was interred in at Barkers Creek Baptist Church Cemetery, where he attended Sunday services during his boyhood years, near Honea Path, SC.


Olin DeWitt Talmadge Johnston, a U.S. Senator from South Carolina; born near Honea Path, Anderson County, SC, November 18, 1896; attended the public schools; graduated from Textile Industrial Institute, Spartanburg, SC. in 1915; attended Wofford College, Spartanburg, SC, until 1917 when he enlisted in the United States Army, serving eighteen months overseas, and becoming a sergeant; re-entered Wofford College and graduated in 1921; received a graduate degree from the University of South Carolina at Columbia in 1923 and graduated from that university’s law department in 1924; admitted to the bar the same year and commenced practice in Spartanburg, SC; member, SC House of Representatives 1923-1924, 1927-1930; unsuccessful Democratic candidate for gubernatorial nomination in 1930; Governor of South Carolina 1935-1939, and from 1943 until his resignation on January 3, 1945; unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1938 and 1941; elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 1944, 1950, 1956, and again in 1962, and served from January 3, 1945, until his death in Columbia, SC on April 18, 1965; chairman, Committee on Post Office and Civil Service (81st and 82nd U.S. Congresses, and 84th through 89th U.S. Congresses), co-chairman, Joint Committee on Postal Service (82nd U.S. Congress); interment in Barkers Creek Baptist Church Cemetery, Honea Path, SC.

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