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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Guy B. Johnson, December 16, 1974. Interview B-0006. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Women's roles in the Interracial Commission constrained by family responsibilities

Guy and Guion Johnson explain why women tended to work through the Interracial Commission on behalf of all-black schools and why few women served as leaders for that organization. They specifically describe how child care and fundraising restricted the schedules of Guion Johnson and Charlotte Hawkins Brown.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Guy B. Johnson, December 16, 1974. Interview B-0006. 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

Our babies were small at that time and often the meetings were at night and somebody had to babysit, and so I stayed home and Guy went. Occasionally, if the meetings were in the afternoon, I would go with him.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why weren't Methodist women more active in the Interracial Commission? Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Why were they or why weren't they?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why weren't they?
GUION JOHNSON:
In North Carolina. Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Well, I think that this was a pattern in practically all organizations, wasn't it? Women were usually not very . . .
GUION JOHNSON:
You mean in an organization where both men and women participated? Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Well, yes. Because women had so many organizations of their own, you see, and there were not a great many bi-sexual organizations and when you did have one, you could count on the males dominating it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I'm thinking of two things. One is that it seems that the church itself is an example of that kind of bi-sexual organization in which women really tend to . . . it's built on the membership of women, on the local level, but completely run by men. And I was wondering whether the Interracial Commission did utilize women in local interracial committees and doing the kind of local level work, although the officers tended to be men. Or whether women were not active on any level, really. Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: There would usually be at least one woman on a committee.
GUION JOHNSON:
On state commissions. One black and one woman. State commissions were appointed, and this has persisted almost to this day. The women in North Carolina were not as active as the women in Georgia. The Methodist women, all denominations, were far less active in North Carolina than in Georgia. That's the reason that when we came back from the Southern Regional Council I said that Georgia was far more liberal, basically, than North Carolina. Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: I remember one type of thing that women were often involved in in the early commissions, and that was trying to do something to improve the grounds and getting some shrubs or flowers or something around the colored schools. This was the sort of thing where I guess the men were quite willing to let them take the lead.
GUION JOHNSON:
That was women's work. And if there were refreshments, the women prepared the refreshments. That again, was women's work. (laughter)
JACQUELYN HALL:
What about Charlotte Hawkins Brown? Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: She was very active.
JACQUELYN HALL:
She was very active? Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Well, yes, I think that her name appeared on the list of what was called an executive committee, or something.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did a woman like her tend to be not relegated to those kinds of women's activities as much? Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: She was fairly forceful and spoke her mind. For those days, she could be quite plainspoken. Of course, you know, she was head of the Palmer Institute.
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, and she was extremely busy trying to raise funds for the Institute. And of course, when she died, the Institute almost folded and then finally did. It needed a dynamic person such as she was to hold it together and to get funds, in the North, chiefly, because they were mostly students from low income families who could not pay a high tuition. It was always a struggle for her. She had to spend most of her time raising funds and administering them. She did not have time to give to extra-curricular activities.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were there any annual meetings where resolutions were passed or stands taken? Were there any controversial issues about the direction of this commission? Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Yes, occasionally, there were resolutions. I would have to go back and look through a lot of the old papers to be specific. But there were . . . oh, I'll tell you one thing that was a long standing project, and that was to do something about a school for delinquent girls, wasn't it?
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes. Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: The colored girls. You see, there wasn't one. They had a white school.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Now, that's the kind of thing that tended to be a woman's project in some states. Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Yeah.
GUION JOHNSON:
And it was the Negro Federation of Women's Clubs that really got moving and got that program through. It was supported by such people as Dr. Newbold and Gurney Hood, in state government.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did white women work on that?
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, but not to the extent that the Negro women did. There was strong leadership there. I'd like someone to make a study of the history of the Negro Federation of Women's Clubs.