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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 >>

Southern governments trying to avoid compliance with desegregation orders

Johnson recalls the "asinine schemes" of southern governments trying to avoid compliance with desegregation orders. Johnson predicted some of these contortions in a 1954 address.

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:
You know, hindsight is almost a 20-20 vision, Dr. Johnson, and I know in a way it's unfair for me to ask this question, but I find myself, now, as I look back on that period, say 1945, from the end of the war, until 1950, by which time McCarthyism had sent such a chill through society.
GUY B. JOHNSON:
Oh Lord, yeah.
JOHN EGERTON:
That five-year period looks now, in retrospect, like a golden opportunity that was missed by the South to make some voluntary change ahead of litigation that might have prevented 25 years of turmoil and bloodshed and all that followed. I've said that to some people, and they say, "Well, yeah, I can see that, but things have their own momentum. There wouldn't have been any way you could have rushed it up. It would have taken this long anyway." What's your view on that?
GUY B. JOHNSON:
Well, I don't see how an organization which was practically no mass support. . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
I don't mean just SRC, but I'm thinking about the political front. There's Ellis Arnall; there's Jim Folsom.
GUY B. JOHNSON:
Yes, well, I think they represented some forward looking people who were doing what they could.
JOHN EGERTON:
But that wasn't the South?
GUY B. JOHNSON:
But I don't think they could have taken very liberal stances and got any where.
JOHN EGERTON:
The hard truth is the South just wasn't ready to do that, was it? It couldn't have been persuaded to do what it ultimately was compelled to do?
GUY B. JOHNSON:
Right, it just took this shock by the Supreme Court.
JOHN EGERTON:
And the black protests.
GUY B. JOHNSON:
And they learned they could live with it [Laughter] . The revolution in southern politics especially, and that's where the legal business is so important. The list of black mayors and legislators and other black people elected, you just wouldn't believe it.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yeah, it's amazing. It truly has been revolutionary. A lot of people said back then, "The law says separate but equal, and if we'll make separate truly equal, we're in keeping with the law and we can. . ."
GUY B. JOHNSON:
Oh yes, they clung to that myth for a long time, and you had these perfectly asinine schemes of all kinds tried. I [Laughter] predicted a lot of that stuff in my presidential address at the Southern Sociological Society in '54. This was in March or April. We met in Atlanta at the Biltmore Hotel. This was a, what did I call it, "A Southern Sociologist Looks at Racial Desegregation," or something.
JOHN EGERTON:
Okay, good, I'll look that up. That's certainly one I want to read.
GUY B. JOHNSON:
And I began by saying, "One morning soon the Supreme Court is going to pass a new law." [Laughter] Then I explained how sitting in the barber shop, a friend came up and he said, "Is the Supreme Court about to pass a new law?" And it struck me funny for a moment, and then I thought that's exactly what they do. I went on and talked about things that had led up to all this—black changes in the white primary system, and opening the universities and so on. Then I made some predictions on what would be some of the consequences of such a Supreme Court decision. One set of these predictions had to do with the crazy things that would be tried throughout the South, especially the deep South.