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 Olin DeWitt Talmadge Johnston

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Olin DeWitt Talmadge Johnston

  • Birth 18 Nov 1896 Honea Path, Anderson County, South Carolina, USA
  • Death 18 Apr 1965 Columbia, Richland County, South Carolina, USA
  • Burial Honea Path, Anderson County, South Carolina, USA
  • Memorial ID 20206

US Senator, Governor of South Carolina. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as the 98th Governor of South Carolina from January 1935 until January 1939 and again from January 1943 until January 1945, when he began serving as US Senator for four consecutive terms until his death in April 1965. Born Olin DeWitt Talmadge Johnston near Honea Path, South Carolina, his family maintained a farm and his father worked in the Chiquola Manufacturing Company's textile mill. His youth was divided between attending school, work on the family farm, and in the textile mill. He could attend school only while the family was on the farm, usually in the summers. He eventually enrolled in the Textile Industrial Institute, now Spartanburg Methodist College, in Spartanburg, South Carolina and he earned his high school diploma in just thirteen months, graduating in 1915. The following fall he entered Wofford College in Spartanburg, working his way through school by holding a variety of jobs. When the US entered World War I in April 1917 he left college and enlisted in the US Army National Guard, serving with the 117th Engineers which was attached to the 42nd Infantry Division (also known as the "Rainbow" Division), in France and attained the rank of sergeant. He was discharged from the US Army in June 1919 and he returned to Wofford where he received his Bachelor's Degree in 1921. He then entered the University of South Carolina at Columbia, South Carolina where he earned both a Master of Arts Degree in Political Science in 1923 and a Bachelor of Laws Degree in 1924, and established the law firm of Faucette and Johnston in Spartanburg. In 1922, while still attending college, he was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives and represented Anderson County for one term before he stepped down in 1924 to run his law practice. In 1927 he was elected to the same body as a representative from Spartanburg County and served for two terms. In 1930 he ran for governor and led the slate of candidates in the Democratic primary, but lost in the runoff election. Four years later, he ran again and was elected Governor of 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, the $3.00 license plate, and the establishment of the South Carolina's Industrial Commission, Labor Department, Planning and Development Board, and Ports Authority. In what has become the most famous fight between a governor and legislature in South Carolina history, he attempted to dismiss a number of members of the powerful State Highway Commission. After the commissioners refused to leave their posts, he mobilized the National Guard to occupy the offices of the Highway Department. He ultimately lost his battle with the Highway Commission, and severely wounded his already poor relationship with the state's legislature. In 1935 he 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 South Carolina Public Welfare Act into law and established a state system for social security, worker's compensation, and unemployment compensation. Unable to run for re-election in 1938, he challenged Ellison D. "Cotton Ed" Smith for his seat in the US Senate but was defeated. In 1941 he ran for the US Senate in a special election to replace Senator James F. Byrnes, who had just been appointed to the US Supreme Court, but lost to South Carolina Governor Burnet R. Maybank. In 1942 he was elected Governor of South Carolina again, winning a narrow victory in the Democratic primary, and ran unopposed in the general election. During his second term, he focused more on preserving racial segregation and signed laws which attempted to circumvent the US Supreme Court landmark decision in Smith v. Allwright (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 US Supreme Court. In 1944 he was elected to the US Senate, defeating "Cotton Ed" Smith in a rematch of their 1938 race, and was subsequently re-elected for three additional terms. During his time in the US Senate, he served on the committees on Agriculture and Forestry, District of Columbia, Judiciary, and Post Office and Civil Service. In 1950 he became chairman of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee 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. Unlike most Southern Democrats, he opposed the anti-union Taft-Hartley labor law in 1947 and he voted for President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty in 1964 and for Medicare. He died in Columbia, South Carolina from cancer at the age of 68. His daughter, Elizabeth Johnston Patterson, served in the US House of Representatives from South Carolina's 4th congressional district for three consecutive terms from 1987 to 1993.

Bio by: William Bjornstad


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 10 Feb 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 20206
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Olin DeWitt Talmadge Johnston (18 Nov 1896–18 Apr 1965), Find A Grave Memorial no. 20206, citing Barkers Creek Baptist Church Cemetery, Honea Path, Anderson County, South Carolina, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .