logo of university of south carolina

Olin D. Johnston Papers, 1923-1965

Olin Dewitt Talmadge Johnston (1896-1965) served South Carolina as a United States senator from 1945 until his death in 1965. At that time he was ninth in seniority in the Senate and renowned as a champion of the common man. Prior to his election to the Senate, Johnston served two terms as governor, 1935-1939 and 1943-1945, and in the state General Assembly, 1923-1930. Throughout his long career in public service, Johnston was the friend and advocate of the farmer and laborer.

Johnston was born in 1896 near Honea Path. His family maintained a farm and worked in the Chiquola Manufacturing Company's textile mill. Johnston's youth was divided between school, helping on the farm, and work in the mill. He could attend school only while the family was on the farm, usually in the summer. He eventually entered the Textile Industrial Institute in Spartanburg, and there Johnston earned his high school diploma in thirteen months, graduating in 1915.

In the fall of 1915, Johnston entered Wofford College, where he worked his way through school while holding a variety of jobs. His studies were interrupted by America's entry into the Great War. Johnston enlisted in the Army National Guard in 1917 and served eighteen months overseas with the 117th Engineer unit, which was attached to the 42nd (Rainbow) Division, and attained the rank of sergeant.

Following his discharge in June 1919, he returned to Wofford. He received his bachelor's degree in 1921 and that fall entered the University of South Carolina. There he earned both an M.A. in Political Science in 1923 and an LL.B. in 1924. 1924 also witnessed his marriage to Gladys Atkinson in December and the establishment of the law firm of Faucette and Johnston in Spartanburg.

Johnston's political career began while he attended the University of South Carolina. The former mill worker and doughboy was elected to the South Carolina House in 1922 and represented Anderson County from 1923 to 1924 and Spartanburg County from 1927 to 1930. Johnston proved a capable and popular campaigner. He was an unsuccessful candidate for governor in 1930, but won that office in 1934 and served his first term from 1935 to 1939. In his 1935 inaugural address, Johnston stated--"This occasion marks the end of what is commonly known as `ring rule' in South Carolina."

Johnston yearned to serve in the United States Senate and waged unsuccessful campaigns for that office in 1938 and again in 1941. He was elected to a second term as governor in 1942, then ran again for the Senate in 1944, defeating incumbent Ellison "Cotton Ed" Smith (1866-1944) in the Democratic primary. Johnston resigned as governor on 3 January 1945 and was sworn into the Senate that same day. 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 Roosevelt, the $3.00 license plate, and the establishment of the Industrial Commission, Labor Department, Planning and Development Board, and Ports Authority.

In the Senate, 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 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 generally opposed foreign aid, viewing it as support of foreign interests at the expense of American industry and consumers.

Johnston died on 18 April 1965 following a long battle with cancer. In eulogizing Johnston, his long time associate, Sen. 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."

The South Caroliniana Library received Senator Johnston's papers shortly after his death. The collection was, at that time, the largest ever acquired by the Library. The staff of the Modern Political Collections Division has recently completed processing the collection, creating an eighty-page collection inventory which provides scholars with easy access to the collection's contents, primarily at the folder level. This inventory, the culmination of more than a year of intensive work, will encourage researchers to make ever-increasing use of this important collection. The collection consists of 241.25 linear feet of material, 1923-1965. The papers chiefly date from his Senate years and document Johnston's activities and the interests and concerns of his constituents across South Carolina. Series present within the collection include Legislative Files, News Clippings, Speeches, Reference Files, Campaign Files, Press Releases, Voting Records, Recommendations, Media Files, Office Files, Case Files, Gubernatorial Papers, Audio-Visual Records, and Miscellaneous.

Legislative files, 121.25 linear feet, contain correspondence and other material relating to bills and issues considered by Congress. These files often contain copies of the pertinent bills and resolutions, committee prints, and official and constituent correspondence. Johnston was a member of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee throughout his tenure in the Senate and, in time, wielded significant influence over legislation affecting these areas. This is evidenced by voluminous material regarding postal service and government employees. Extensive materials document the importance of agriculture and the textile industry in South Carolina. Along with Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia, Johnston led the effort to erect a dam at Trotters Shoals, documented by files for 1962 and 1963. Records relating to the Democratic National Committee chiefly contain speech material for use in campaigning.

Johnston's lengthy service on the Judiciary Committee, 1953-1965, is well documented. In 1962, he chaired a sub-committee of the Judiciary Committee which considered President Kennedy's appointment of Thurgood Marshall to the federal appellate court. Johnston was accused of using delaying tactics to halt Marshall's confirmation. Correspondence from constituents and people outside of South Carolina reflects the bitter division across America over this appointment. In the 1950s, Johnston chaired Judiciary's subcommittee on Internal Security, investigating fears of communist influence in the United States government as well as in organizations such as the United Nations.

In 1957 the nation focused on events in Little Rock, Ark. Extensive files document the passage of civil rights bills in Congress and the reactions of Johnston's constituents and people all across the country. An N.A.A.C.P. file substantiates Johnston's call for an investigation of the organization and suspicion that it had been subverted by communists.

Reference Files consist of 6.25 linear feet of source material gathered by Senator Johnston's office. Of particular interest are files, 1957-1960, concerning civil rights. These chiefly regard attempts to impede the passage of a civil rights bill and hearings, 1957, held by the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights. Among those who appeared before the Subcommittee and/or corresponded with Johnston were Edgar Brown, Jimmy Byrnes, Gov. Fritz Hollings, and I. DeQuincey Newman. A separate file relates to concerns over the testimony of journalist John H. McCray, one of the founders of the Progressive Democratic Party.

Campaign Files, 5 linear feet, 1938-1964, contain correspondence and other materials relating to Johnston's campaigns for public office as well as other statewide campaigns. Party activities, chiefly at the national level, are documented both in this series and, under the heading Democratic Party, within Legislative Files. This series contains valuable records from the presidential races of 1948, 1952, 1956, 1960, and 1964. Particularly good material exists for the campaigns of Adlai Stevenson, 1952 and 1956, and Barry Goldwater, 1964. William C. Johnston's 1958 gubernatorial campaign is also documented with papers including campaign speeches.

| 1994 Modern Political Collections | 1994 USCS Program Menu | South Caroliniana Library |

This page copyright © 1996-97, The Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina.
URL http://www.sc.edu/library/socar/uscs/1994/johnst94.html