Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lyman Johnson, July 12, 1990. Interview A-0351. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Some whites support black rights in the face of community pressure

Whites in Louisville who were sympathetic to the Black Freedom struggle deserve credit even when they did not push for full integration. They weathered pressure from other whites to not help blacks and to keep silent about other community 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

JOHN EGERTON:
And you made a good choice. Compared to those other place, this place was doing a better job. So my question to you is, if it was already ahead of these places, and it had a liberal newspaper, and it had a liberal mayor during the war, why would you feel that they couldn't go too far? On the contrary, why wasn't this a wonderful time for them to go the whole route, and open the restaurants and the schools and the housing projects and all the other places?
LYMAN JOHNSON:
You'll have to ask them why didn't they do it. Why didn't they see that it was to their benefit to do so?
JOHN EGERTON:
Did you feel critical of them for not doing that?
LYMAN JOHNSON:
Them, who are them?
JOHN EGERTON:
Wilson Wyatt and the whole. . . .
LYMAN JOHNSON:
No, I think they went as far as they could go. I tell you . . . let's put it like this: The superintendent one day got after some white teachers, and really read the riot act to them, the city superintendent. Now one of them was a member of this group that was bold enough to join the Teachers' Union, Federation, but most of those whites did it on the quiet. They didn't want us to run any newspaper accounts of them being outspoken union people or even members. Some of them didn't mind it and became officers, and of course, they had to let their names be used. But here was one woman who was trying to get along with the superintendent, who was opposed to the mixing of the races, she said, "Lyman, you don't know how this superintendent treats us white teachers. Sometimes he clubs us over the head more than he does you black teachers." He called us Negroes in those days. I said, "What do you mean?" Then she told me about the meeting that they had two days ago where the superintendent said, "Every little thing you can think of you come griping to me about it, and you don't like it. If you don't like teaching in these schools we have here in Louisville, why don't you quit before you get fired? You come bringing me all these complaints. I'm going to chalk you up, and when you get so many of them, I'm going to call it quits. I'm going to fire you."
JOHN EGERTON:
So they were under pressure.
LYMAN JOHNSON:
Now, she said . He said, "You see, you're white. Now, if you were a Negro like Lyman Johnson and that bunch, I would be raising hell too. I just couldn't stand what they have to go through. But you're white. Now, damn it, don't come complaining to me about anything. You're white." She said, "And Lyman, you know, when we agree with him that we're white, then we've lost our battle, and then he can treat us worse than he treats you, because he sympathizes with you." Now our mayor did practically the same thing. We went down to argue with the mayor. We carried a committee of five people.