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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 >>

Johnson helps form the first integrated teachers' union in Louisville

Johnson and his fellow black teachers started an integrated teacher's union to counteract the whites-only union. They had a difficult time attracting white members until they recognized each union's differing perspectives on educational problems.

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

LYMAN JOHNSON:
Oh yes, I had quite a bit to do with starting the Teachers' Federation, Louisville Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. Now, at that time between '45, no, we started back about 1942, '41. But from '41 to about '55, white people, generally still steeped in white supremacy, belonged to what they called the Kentucky Educational Association or the Louisville Educational Association. I referred to them as the Association Gang.
JOHN EGERTON:
They were all white?
LYMAN JOHNSON:
Yeah.
JOHN EGERTON:
And was AFL? Was the Louisville Federation, was it all black?
LYMAN JOHNSON:
No, we started out, mostly Negroes started the thing, but we told the national office, "Don't give us a charter until we get some white people to join us, because we don't want a segregated thing. We've got a black association and a white association. We don't want two federations, black and white." I think our charter started out with 36 members. The first 25 we got signed up were black.
JOHN EGERTON:
This was in the '40s?
LYMAN JOHNSON:
About '41. We could have gotten a charter with 25 members, but we wouldn't start because then it would have been an all black affair. Then after we got started, we'd catch hell getting whites to come in. So we waited until we got some, to answer your question, we got 11 people who were willing join with us. They liked the federation attack on educational problems better than they did the association. So they joined in with us. Then we were a mixed organization. The Federation was mixed. Then on the local level, we sort of soft pedaled taking in black members. We didn't just go out and recruit black members. We did go out and recruit white members.
JOHN EGERTON:
Trying to get an even balance.
LYMAN JOHNSON:
The percentage was just about one fourth black in the school system, and we were afraid, looking at the general situation from a practical point of view, we were afraid to get more than one fourth or one third blacks, because you've heard of what they call a little tilting point. So as long as we could get whites to come in and be about two-thirds, if not three-fourths, of the total membership, we could still count on getting whites to come in.