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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 >>

Southern Regional Council debated the adoption of an anti-segregation statement

The Southern Regional Council members argued over the merits of a proposed statement against segregation. The decision did not hinge on racial identity but rather on concern for an organizational stance with mass appeal.

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

JACQUELYN HALL:
Was there much overlap between the CIC members and the the new SRC board members? Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Well, that . . . yes, there was some overlap, but I'm not sure how much. I would guess that around a third were CIC carry-overs. Well, then another thing that happened, another highlight of the meeting, was the afternoon discussion of policies. Here, they got into the controversy over segregation. Should this Council come out right now with some strong declaration against segregation, or should it not? Well, there were good arguments on both sides and some very good talks made. And you could see some of the white members, of a moderate stripe, getting a little worried about having so much discussion over this question. And some of the more militant black members getting a little disgusted, you know, that this thing wasn't something that you could vote on at once and declare yourself against segregation and all that. The prevailing view was that, first, there is not a damn thing that this organization itself can do to stop segregation, because this is in the law and there is no hope of changing these laws anytime soon. The nearest hope is from the courts, who might change the interpretation of the Constitution, which of course, is what eventually happened . . . but that as an organization, you could do no more than individuals could and had been doing for a long, long time in their personal relations, you know. In other words, having equal personal relations, having Negro guests in your home and all this sort of thing. But that the main bulwark of segregation was the laws and if you made some declaration against segregation, you weren't going to do any good, and if you hoped to have some kind of a mass support, mass membership, you would probably frighten off any chance of this, you see, if you said that the main thing was segregation and "we're going to be fighting that." Well, interestingly enough, some of the whites were for the anti-segregation statement and some of the blacks were against it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Oh, really? Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who were the whites who were for it? Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Oh, I couldn't attempt to recall now, exactly who was . . . oh, for the statement. Well, as I recall, Clark Foreman was one and several other people, white and black, who were in his Southern Conference for Human Welfare.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you remember who the major proponents of both sides were? Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: I think that Benjamin Mays spoke in favor of a statement and certainly Clark Foreman. Beyond that, I'm afraid that I couldn't recall, but one thing I do recall, is that the Negro editor, Carter Wesley, from Houston, who of course, was a very militant man, and very anti-segregation personally, said, "My position is wellknown. I don't have to tell you that I despise segregation and I think that the laws are unfair and unconstitutional. But, after all, we have got to consider what will be our best strategy here in trying to make some appeal to the people of the South, trying to get some support, trying to get people to work with us. And I am quite willing to forego the pleasure of sponsoring a statement against segregation for the sake of what I hope will be some better response among the southern people . . . a stronger organization, you know, to work on the things that we know we can do." Well, it was just purely a matter of the best tactics to use, you see. And this was the prevailing view, and so, they decided not to issue any statement against segregation. But that was the highlight in terms of policy. It took up quite a bit of time.