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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 >>

Progressive views on race and gender instilled during childhood in Texas

Johnson describes her upbringing in Wolfe City and Greenville, Texas, during the early twentieth century. Johnson explains how she grew up in a family that had relatively progressive views regarding both race and gender. Her grandfather had moved to Texas from Mississippi in order to remove his family from the racial injustice of Reconstruction and her mother was involved in the women's suffrage movement. As a result, Johnson recalls growing up having had little contact with African Americans (especially lacking any negative interactions) and believing that women should be economically independent.

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:
Well, in the early suffragist movement, there was very little connection between black women and white women.
GUION JOHNSON:
Oh none whatsoever. I'm quite sure. Now, I was growing up in Texas at that time, and there were not very many Negros in Texas. I think that my grandparents had perhaps the only couple, Negro couple, living in their back yard, when I was a little girl in Wolfe City, Texas, where I was born. And in Greenville, we were living there at the time of the movement for votes for women. My father had a black janitor who was almost white. And I think that there were not very many Negro families in Greenville, which was a little town of about ten thousand. And not thirty miles away, in a little town called Josephine, Negros were not allowed to live.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
In the town at all.
GUION JOHNSON:
No, not at all.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, perhaps in the population of the county, you might find blacks living in the county.
GUION JOHNSON:
You might, but there were not very many working on the farms. Now, my grandfather had three farms and his tenants were all white. His laborers were entirely white. There were very few Negros, even thought this was the so-called old plantation section of Texas, the part of Texas that was very closely allied with the concepts of the South.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So, you were in a very different dsituation from say southern Georgia . .
GUION JOHNSON:
Or say Mississippi. My grandfather had left Mississippi when he was just, right after the Civil War, 1875, something like that. Because he wanted to get away from the horrors of Reconstruction. And he was so aghast at the way that the blacks were being treated, shot down in the streets for nothing, no offense. He said that he did not want to bring his children up in such an atmosphere and he moved to Texas, Northeast Texas, in the blackland area.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So, he was able to get out of it then.
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
But your mother was very active in the suffragist movement.
GUION JOHNSON:
Mother was in a very quiet way, because after all, she had four children, five children at that time, and domestic help only once a week. She had someone to come in and do the laundry and the ironing and perhaps clean the house once a week, so she was very busy with her children. But she encouraged her three daughters, she had three girls in a row, and we were in our early teens and later teens, and she encouraged us to do everything that we could to attend the meetings, listen to what was being said, talk to women . . . uh, men who could vote . . . (laughter) . . . to vote for the amendment. And we had just within our block, two influential men. One was later in the Supreme Court of Texas and the other was a county judge and a political boss.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
How were they reacting? Were they supportive?
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, yes they were. Both of them were supportive. They had daughters of their own and intelligent wives and, yes, they were in favor of it.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, there wasn't a lot of opposition to a respectable woman like your mother being involved in this sort of thing, sending her daughters out to campaign.
GUION JOHNSON:
No, no. No opposition whatsoever; that is, none that I was aware of. There might have been some, which never reached our ears. But Mother was thoroughly in favor of the amendment. In fact, I think that she was one of the original feminists. And had a great ambition for her daughters. She had four daughters and one son . . . very ambitious for her daughters to receive as much education as possible and to go into a profession and to be self-supporting economically. This was her great ambition.