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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 >>

External forces necessary to improve race relations in the South

Johnson argues that the South would never have integrated without outside pressure, and he uses the lack of equality within the Louisville Board of Education as an example. Without events like the Civil War, white southerners would have remained comfortable with slavery. The only form of integration would have been interracial sex arising from abuse of female slaves.

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:
All right, so we went on through the '50s, and bits and pieces of the South came straggling along to the starting line, and by 1954 when the Brown decision came down, it was like the beginning, you know? It wasn't the accomplishment of anything. It was just the very start after all those years, and it's taken Louisville just as long now, almost, to get where it is as Birmingham and Atlanta and Nashville.
LYMAN JOHNSON:
I don't know, I think it's in the book there, I don't know, somewhere you may have picked it up. I used to be on the Board of Education here?
JOHN EGERTON:
Right.
LYMAN JOHNSON:
I found the Board of Education, I chided the board any number of times, right in open session. I said, "Oh my God, Mr. Superintendent and fellow board members, you're dragging your feet on this business of integration. The hometown that I come from, and the little town down there, it's famous all over the world for having started the Ku Klux Klan-Pulaski, Tennessee. Why they're so far ahead of you in integration that you ought to go down there and find out how to do it." Yeah, yeah, I told them.
JOHN EGERTON:
Do you think that left to its own devices the South would ever have done voluntarily what it finally did when the blacks went to the streets and the Supreme Court handed down the decision it handed down?
LYMAN JOHNSON:
Hell, naw.
JOHN EGERTON:
Never would have happened?
LYMAN JOHNSON:
I'd have been out there picking cotton. Hadn't been for the Civil War, I'd have been out there picking cotton right now. Oh, I guess they'd have made me, they'd have looked at me and said, "Oh, he'd a pretty smart nigger, we'll make him supervisor over a bunch of other damn niggers." I guess they'd have made me head waiter.
JOHN EGERTON:
But the desegregation of society?
LYMAN JOHNSON:
Hell, naw.
JOHN EGERTON:
Never would have happened?
LYMAN JOHNSON:
No, indeed. Oh, there would have been a lot of integration under cover.
JOHN EGERTON:
Such as, what kind?
LYMAN JOHNSON:
Look at my complexion.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yeah.
LYMAN JOHNSON:
All of me didn't come from Africa, buddy. All of me didn't come from Africa.
JOHN EGERTON:
Well, that kind of integration's been going on for centuries.
LYMAN JOHNSON:
Been going on ever since they brought these little black girls over here and put them out there in the cabin, and Marse Charlie can't control his peter. So he goes down there in the cabins and says, "Come here, nigger gal. I'm going to use you tonight." And he leaves a baby down there, and when that little black girl comes up with the yellow baby, it tells the story right there. That's better than a University Ph.D thesis. Yeah, whenever you see, down in the cabin, some little black girl carrying around a little yellow baby.
JOHN EGERTON:
Do you suppose that that very issue, the whole sexual thing, maybe lies at the heart of all the difficulties that white people have had facing up to this issue?
LYMAN JOHNSON:
I think so. I think it's the immorality of a double standard. They pretend to be so saintly, so holy, so righteous. I tell you, go way back over there, Thomas Jefferson had any number of little yellow babies on his plantation. He admitted it. "I guess half of them are mine." He admitted he had a bunch of kids. But in general, a white man would father a baby and then deny it, see. Not some old scoundrel, some old, no good, unprincipled white person took advantage of this black girl, but no, he himself did it.