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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Guion Griffis Johnson, May 17, 1974. Interview G-0029-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Comparing the oppression of women and African Americans in the south in the early 1920s

Johnson talks about her belief that the plight of women and African Americans in the South in the early twentieth century were strikingly similar. Johnson first made this assertion in public in 1948 at a conference of the American Association of University Women. Her declaration that women could understand their own oppression if they understood that of African Americans was quite controversial at the time and she explains how many women in attendance interpreted her assertion as an affront to southern women.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Guion Griffis Johnson, May 17, 1974. Interview G-0029-2. 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

MARY FREDERICKSON:
A couple things that I wanted to talk about, one was the woman's suffrage movement in the early twenties or in the teens, the early twentieth century, as compared to the women's movement now and the relation both times to abolitionism and civil rights. Don't you see the women's movement now as sort of an outgrowth of the concern of civil rights in the '60s.
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Whereas before, it was very closely related. And yet, before, in the South, I think, didn't it twist and people who were ploying to get the vote as a way to fight with the Negro, as a way to . . .
GUION JOHNSON:
To keep the Negro down?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
To make the South more solid.
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, to keep the Negro in his place. I remember being a speaker at the Southeastern meeting of the American Association of University Women at Myrtle Beach, in, oh, maybe it was 1948, and I was asked to speak on the role of the southern woman. It was a panel. I made a statement to the affect that . . . you see, I had already participated in the Myrdal study and had already written my history of racial ideology. I said, "Southern women should certainly know and understand the movement of the Negro, the desire of the Negro or equal opportunities. The Southern woman should understand what the staus of the Negro is, because her status has always been somewhat comparable." And there was this intake of breath, gasping in the audience. And a southern woman, of course, was the panel director, (Dr. Rosamond Boyd) professor of sociology at Winthrop College in South Carolina. And she could not carry on the panel from there. She wanted to discuss this startling statement that had just been made, and she received almost no discussion from the floor. The women had gone into shock. The very idea of comparing a white woman, the status of the white woman, with the Negro in the South! It was an outrageous idea. It was an affront. And yet, this was very true. You know, this writer from Connecticut, who wrote anonymously in the 1840's, during the Bloomer Movement had made this statement. That the status of the southern slaves is superior to the status of the southern woman, which was cause for southern newspapers to rise up in editorials of outrage. But he documented it. I have never taken the time to find out who wrote this article. It was published in part in the Raleigh newspapers and I was able to read most of it there and then, of course, I found it in pamphlet form in the Schomburg Collection when I was doing work there for the history of racial ideology.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You were speaking almost one hundred years later?
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, yes. And people were still shocked.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
How did the meeting resolve?
GUION JOHNSON:
There was just this panel and Dr. Boyd, Rosamond Boyd, went on with the panel after throwing out the idea of "let's discuss this point." And there were a few scattering remarks and then we adjourned for luncheon and I was practically shunned. Just my very good friends from North Carolina who hovered around me, knowing that I really was not that bad, to sort of protect me, and the other women shunned me. This was an affront to them.