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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Guy B. Johnson, July 22, 1990. Interview A-0345. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Court system was the only American institution capable of dismantling segregation

Johnson believed in the 1940s that the court system was the only American institution capable of dismantling segregation—southerners and their governments were simply not ready. He has a little bit of difficulty justifying his participation in the SRC given this belief.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Guy B. Johnson, July 22, 1990. Interview A-0345. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JOHN EGERTON:
Mainly on transportation, and there was another big argument in SRC about, you know, how do we deal with this? What kind of visibility do we give to this? Did you find yourself, by that time, beginning to feel that at some very near point it was going to be necessary for SRC to reconsider this and take a position, or did you feel that it was. . .?
GUY B. JOHNSON:
Oh, I just thought the thing was rolling, and that was exactly what I had always expected. That it was not going to be solved by political action in the South because they were not ready for it. And it was not going to be solved by organizations voting against segregation, but it was going to be solved in the courts. That was the only element of government—state, local, federal—that had the freedom to act and make a sudden change, and that's what they did. That was the whole basis of my feeling about strategy, you know. You can get out there and talk and shout your head off about getting rid of segregation, but that's not going to get rid of it. You're going to get rid of it through judicial action.
JOHN EGERTON:
Well, where did that leave SRC as an organization then, in terms of the policy that it operated under? Was it your feeling that it ought to stick to the policy that it had and wait for the litigation?
GUY B. JOHNSON:
Well, I don't think I ever considered that [Laughter] . [Pause] I guess I felt they [the SRC] were not committed to, you know, preserving segregation. They were just committed to doing what they could on all kinds of southern problems, but not make a frontal attack on segregation.
JOHN EGERTON:
In other words, it would be better to wait for the courts to do that than for the organization to take any initiative.
GUY B. JOHNSON:
That's what I felt. Just give them a little time, they're going to do it for you. Then the whole outfit would be made honest overnight, you see. Then you could start working on the problems of desegregation. I don't think I ever felt any dilemma there because of what the courts were doing. I expected it and I welcomed it. Well, I don't know. I guess maybe I was blind to what we should have been doing. It didn't occur to me, "Now, let's have a meeting, and let's get a new policy statement."
JOHN EGERTON:
In point of fact, it was 1951 before SRC did have a new policy statement.
GUY B. JOHNSON:
Oh really, I didn't realize that.
JOHN EGERTON:
In that year they took a position saying that in order to do the work that they had set out to do, it was just simply imperative for them to say that segregation was harmful to the South and that it needed to be eradicated.
GUY B. JOHNSON:
Yeah, that's right.
JOHN EGERTON:
That was in '51. Before that had been these other things, Myrdal, in a sense, said that in American Dilemma, and individuals like will Alexander and increasingly others did. And then the Civil Rights Committee in '47, responding to—primarily, as I read that, Harry Truman created the U.S. Committee on Civil Rights primarily in angry reaction at that lynching in Monroe, Georgia. Four people were killed, and the federal government was unable to crack that. He created that committee, and Mrs. Tilly was on it, and Frank Graham was on it.
GUY B. JOHNSON:
Yes, as I recall, I spoke to that committee, witness or something.
JOHN EGERTON:
And their document issued in, I forget the month, '47, said that segregation ought to have no place in a democratic society. I mean, it was a very forthright statement. But SRC still—you had gone back to Chapel Hill by that time—under George Mitchell, all the way to 1951, couldn't resolve this internal debate. And when they finally did resolve it, almost in the next day's mail, Virginius Dabney's resignation came. He had been inactive through that period, but he never had really resigned until the organization took that position, and he sent in his letter saying he couldn't do it.
GUY B. JOHNSON:
Yes, that's sort of expected. It's funny. He wrote that book, wasn't it on liberalism in the south?
JOHN EGERTON:
In 1932. Hardly mentioned race.
GUY B. JOHNSON:
His liberalism never ran very deep.