State 125

In 1935, mutiny at the SC highway department

Olin D Johnston
Olin D Johnston File photo/The State

Armed with machine guns and governor’s orders, a militia seized the state’s highway department on Oct. 28, 1935, stripping power over the state’s roads from what S.C. Gov. Olin D. Johnston called the “highway ring.”

The call for martial law came after Johnston accused the highway commission of inciting “rebellion and insurrection” in refusing to seat his appointees.

Machine guns meant to block the commissioners from entering the department greeted employees reporting for work who were asked to resign unless they could continue working as “loyally and as faithfully” as they had before. Johnston installed six allies to run the roads agency.

The military occupation of the highway department ended two months later when the state S.C. Legislature agreed, in an emergency session, to give control of the highway department to a provisional board until they returned to work in January.

Johnston lost the battle eventually. He wanted the General Assembly to approve allowing voters to elect highway commissioners. Instead, lawmakers stripped him of his power to appoint commissioners.