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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lyman Johnson, July 12, 1990. Interview A-0351. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Black soldiers return from WWII with a new awareness of racial inequality

Johnson agrees with Egerton that the end of World War II was an ideal time to end segregation in America because black soldiers had been awakened to possibilities they did not have at home. It was impossible to make them forget those possibilities.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lyman Johnson, July 12, 1990. Interview A-0351. 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

But I do want to get your impression of something out of that. I've got a sort of a theory that this period of time that started in 1945 with the end of the war and going up until about 1950, looking back on it now, looks like a lost opportunity, a golden opportunity thrown away, for whites and blacks in the South to make some peaceful accommodation with one another and avoid all the bloodshed and trouble that subsequently came down the road. You mentioned the war. We'd already been fighting against racists. Hitler was the world's worst racist. We came home, white and black, feeling good about having won victory.
LYMAN JOHNSON:
Over there.
JOHN EGERTON:
Over there, in this kind of liberal war. And it didn't make sense at all to come back and think that we were going to come back to a society that was segregated.
LYMAN JOHNSON:
What about the young Negro soldier who came back to South Carolina . . . ?
JOHN EGERTON:
And got his eyes poked out.
LYMAN JOHNSON:
And they poked his eyes out. "Look, you're not over in Germany. You're not fighting in Japan now. You're not fighting in Israel. You're back down here in South Carolina, nigger." And they were the police that poked his eyes out.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yeah. So would you agree with this theory that this could have been a time when people were. . . .
LYMAN JOHNSON:
That was an opportune time, yes sir. And just rational people should have seen that that was the proper thing to do. If these Negroes had gone from the cotton fields of Alabama and Mississippi and the tobacco fields and cotton of Tennessee and Kentucky. . . . They had been emancipated. Their eyes had been opened, and you can't close a person's mind once it gets open. You can't pluck out of a person's mind an idea that's growing and growing and growing and getting bigger and bigger as days go by.