A Fabric of Defeat: The Politics of South Carolina Millhands, 1910-1948

By Bryant Simon | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN
They Don't Like Us because We're Lintheads The Highway Fight, 1935-1937

"What the hell is going on?" a man shouted as well-armed, steel-helmeted soldiers marching in tight military formation passed him on the streets of downtown Columbia on a bright October morning in 1935. The troops turned at the capitol and headed toward Sumter Street. They stopped in front of a rather innocuous looking building. Grim-faced, they moved with quick precision to seal off all exits and entrances, set up two machine gun nests, and establish a checkpoint. They met no resistance at the building -- the headquarters of the South Carolina Highway Department. 1

The next morning Governor Olin D. Johnston called a press conference to explain the troop deployment. Journalists from around the state and nation crammed into a small briefing room at the governor's mansion. Reading slowly from a prepared text, Johnston said that Orangesburg Company D, 118th Infantry of the National Guard, had been called up to end the Ben Sawyer-led highway department's "unlawful assemblage in a state of insurrection, resistance and against the laws of South Carolina." His election, Johnston claimed, represented a mandate from the people to smash the highway department and restore democracy to the state. Since assuming office nine months earlier, he had tried everything from persuasion to intimidation to carry out this mission. Reviewing the record, he reminded the reporters that he had asked the highway commissioners to resign, and they had refused; he had tried to forcibly replace them, but the state supreme court had blocked

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