Remembering Guy Johnson and George Mitchell
Wright describes Guy Johnson and George Mitchell, two of the SRC's leaders. Johnson was an introverted academic; Mitchell was a charismatic coalition-builder.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Marion Wright, March 8, 1978. Interview B-0034. 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:
Thinking back over your years with the Council and your years of watching
the Council in operation, could you make some comparisons between the
style and the contributions of the different people who have been
Executive Directors of the Council? It seems to me that over the years,
from Guy Johnson to George Mitchell to Harold Fleming, Les Dunbar, Paul
Anthony, and George Esser, there's a lot of continuity but there's also
a lot of difference.
- MARION WRIGHT:
They were probably about as distinct personalities as you could find.
Each had his own special flavor. Guy Johnson, of course, was an
academician. He came from Chapel Hill and was a very scholarly, quiet,
modest kind of man. He would never have succeeded by oratory to get
people to act because of emotion. His was always a purely
intellectual being and almost a little too pedantic for a
successful operation. But he, coupled with Dr. Odum, gave the Council
from its start a certain prestige and a certain public faith in its
findings. Dr. Odum had written his Southern Regions,
and Guy had been a professor of sociology for many years. And they were
men who were accustomed to the methods of research and to be sure that
your facts are right. They commanded the respect not only of the
academic community but of the South generally. So I think if anything
should be said it is that they gave us a degree of public confidence
that we would not have gotten from any other source.
George Mitchell succeeded Guy Johnson. Two more unlike people you could
hardly imagine. George was exuberant, and he had gifts for public
speaking. Completely fearless and unconventional on every issue,
including race, he had the ability to inspire people emotionally, which
Guy Johnson lacked. As to whether or not he was Guy's peer in
organizing, I'm not equipped to say. But George deserves credit for
having been behind the movement to outlaw segregation. And he conducted
negotiations and helped others conduct negotiations with the Fund for
the Republic, which, for the first time in the Council's existence, gave
us a fairly comfortable financial situation. He did a masterful job of
making out a case to this newly formed foundation. And it was asked to
enter a field which most people approached with some trepidation, but
George was persuasive and he got them to do that.