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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Hylan Lewis, January 13, 1991. Interview A-0361. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Description of Charles Johnson

Lewis describes Charles Johnson, African American sociologist and president of Fisk University. He refers to an earlier exchange in the interview in which he described black frustration with leaders like Johnson, who wanted to work with the white community to achieve practical results for black Americans.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Hylan Lewis, January 13, 1991. Interview A-0361. 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:
Let me ask you about a few people that I have not asked you specifically about as sort of a personal assessment of people whom you knew. Charles Johnson is one. You gave me a good mental picture of Frank Graham, give me a similar picture of Charles Johnson.
HYLAN LEWIS:
I think Charles Johnson was an extraordinary man, extraordinarily important person. Important for his effectiveness. He was effective because he had a command of a great variety of skills. One, of course, was seen annoying, and I guess patience was one as well. His skill at writing and at choosing and leading people was extremely important. I think that he was able to place his stamp on a period or an era in ways that I can't think of anyone who has done that since then.
JOHN EGERTON:
Explain that.
HYLAN LEWIS:
Charles Johnson's influence in the area of philanthropy in higher education and his working on boards and behind the scenes in terms of facilitating educational processes, facilitating to some extent the fellowship and scholarship programs. And in terms of stimulating intellect and academic activity and improvement. The books that he wrote, the research teams that he gathered and those kinds of things. We spoke of Charlie Johnson's plantation in a sense where there are various people. When Charles Johnson died I was managing editor of Phylon. There is a preliminary statement there which I did a sort of appreciation of Charles Johnson. I have forgotten what I said. If you look at that year. What year was that?
JOHN EGERTON:
'54 or '55, right along in there.
HYLAN LEWIS:
Somewhere there is a . . . . I answer your question, I make some statement which is much more articulate than what I am saying now. A complex man, a proud man who had a great sense of people of talent and the uses of the people of talent
JOHN EGERTON:
His plantation included a good many whites, didn't it?
HYLAN LEWIS:
Certainly, that's what I am saying.
JOHN EGERTON:
He had connections all over the land.
HYLAN LEWIS:
That I think is the greatest.
JOHN EGERTON:
It amazes me.
HYLAN LEWIS:
Charles Johnson had a kind of influence that matched the life of Booker T. Washington. I'm talking about the process not the content.
JOHN EGERTON:
Personally, was he an easy man to know? was he a formal man?
HYLAN LEWIS:
He was not easy to know as far as I was concerned. There was a great deal of shrewd reserve. There was almost an owl-like quality sometimes. He knew how to use it. The Valiens [Preston and Bonita Valien, his assistants] were extraordinarily important. There were some people who think now in terms of the sense of "how he used them." He was a human being. There were rivalries between Frazier and Johnson, that sort of rivalry. He was human, all too human. He had a wife who was very supportive. I have great appreciation and respect and honor to him.