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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Guion Griffis Johnson, July 1, 1974. Interview G-0029-4. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Raising awareness of poverty and promoting the general welfare of the community

Johnson discusses the living conditions of impoverished African Americans living in Atlanta during the 1940s when she was running the Georgia Conference on Social Welfare. Johnson explains how raising awareness of these kinds of conditions, first for the board and then for the community at large, was central to her task. Her primary goal was to establish community councils that could work for the general welfare of local communities throughout the state.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Guion Griffis Johnson, July 1, 1974. Interview G-0029-4. 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

GUION JOHNSON:
As the chairmen of committies on housing, poverty in general and health would make their reports, they would point out the needs in the community. Unpaved streets within a block of the capitol, which was a slum area of the black population. The location of Negro families scattered in the core sections of the city, where the old families . . . in Ansley Park for example, on Fifth Street . . . all the old families have moved from Fifth, but at that time, there were still Negro cabins in the backyards.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Right behind St. Mark's Methodist Church.
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes. That's right. Most of these men were not aware of this. Most of them lived out in Buckhead, which was the fashionable suburb of Atlanta at the time. And they were not aware. If they were aware of the unpaved streets and the tumbledown shacks within a block of the capitol, they looked the other way. This had nothing to do with them. But when it was pointed out that a great deal of delinquency came from that area and a great deal of disease came from that area and was carried out into the larger community, then they became concerned.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, they weren't two-faced, were they?
GUION JOHNSON:
No, I don't think that they were. I think that they were simply unaware. Of course, I think that much of their pious remarks were made with tongue in cheek. I think that was true, but, no, I think that they became genuinely aware.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, from the rest of your work in the rest of Georgia, was this group in Atlanta that was available and willing to listen and change their minds, were they different from other cities in Georgia?
GUION JOHNSON:
Of course, I did not know Savannah, or Augusta, or Albany, or Columbus, or Thomasville as well as I did Atlanta, but we took a group of . . . a panel to these communities. We always had excellent response. Sometimes we had a meeting in the courthouse, for example in Augusta. And [Ray] Harris . . . I have forgotten his first name, but he was a political leader in that community and at one time I think that he was speaker of the house. I think when we went to Atlanta, the legislature had been in session. He had been very outspoken against an increase in public funds, against matching funds for public welfare and had been more or less a reactionary leader. At one time he ran for governor. When we had our big meeting on the importance of the organization of community forces through the creation of a community council in Augusta, the courtroom was filled and, as I was speaking, I saw him come into the courtroom and stand at the back and I was a little fearful, because I thought that perhaps he would throw me out. After the meeting, he came up to me and spoke to me and said, "You're the first blanety-blank woman I've ever heard who could speak loud enough to be understood in this courtroom. Hereafter, I am going to keep my eye on you." I said, "I suppose that means that I have your blessing." He said, "We'll see what that means." But he was very supportive and even gave us a contribution for the Georgia Conference on Social Welfare, but he saw to it that no community council was organized in Augusta.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
At that time, your major aim was to get community councils set up. Johnson: Or at least bring the attentions of a large group of people in the large towns to an awareness of the needs of the entire community for the general welfare, for working together to solve the problems. That was the main purpose, and if we didn't establish community councils . . . as a matter of fact, we didn't establish even one community council, but we were using this as a reason for having conferences and as a mode for the solution of the problem. You see, once you call attention to the needs of a community, you must point out several different ways that these needs could be met. So, this was the modus operandi.