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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 >>

Obstacles to holding an interracial conference in Atlanta during the gubernatorial reign of Eugene Talmadge

Johnson addresses the impact of Governor Eugene Talmadge's power within the state of Georgia on the efforts of the Georgia Conference on Social Welfare to hold interracial conferences. She contends that in 1945 and 1946, the Conference faced no opposition in Savannah, despite its conservative leanings. When trying to hold a conference in 1947 in Atlanta, however, Johnson argues that they could not find a venue because local business leaders feared the consequences of going against the wishes of Talmadge, a known segregationist, during an election year. Finally, the Conference received permission to use the facilities of a local church for their conference.

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

MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, did they know that you had an interracial Board?
GUION JOHNSON:
I think that most everywhere that we met . . . the first year that we met, we had our conference in Savannah, and Savannah is very conservative, much more so than Augusta, even. There was no objection. We met in the large hotel, the DeSoto Hotel I believe it was, in Savannah and the blacks came and there was no word of objection. We met the next time in . . .
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Now, this was in '46?
GUION JOHNSON:
My first big annual meeting was in '45, then '46, '47. There was no problem in '45, no problem in '46, but in '47, [Eugene] Talmadge was running for governor. The meeting was to be held in Atlanta and I had booked the Biltmore and talked to the manager and made all the arrangements. Two weeks before the conference, ten manager called me (Mr. Byrd, called me) and said, "I'm sorry to tell you that you can't have your conference here. If you do have your conference here, you will have to tell your black members that they cannot attend." I said, "I do not think that this would be acceptable to the Board or to the membership. However, I will consult with the Board and telephone you promptly." I polled the Board by telephone and they said, "Of course we will not. We will just call the conference off and not have it this year. We know that the Talmadge political gang is stirring up the emotions against the blacks, so we think that perhaps it would be better not to have a conference." I said, "Well, you let me see what I can do, because we already have our speakers lined up. They are coming from all over the country and I would dislike very much to have to call [such a leader as] Leonard Mayo and tell him that he can't come and speak. Let me see if I can find another place in Atlanta." We explored every place that would be large enough to accomodate about a thousand participants, because it was a large convention. And everyone said, "I'm sorry, we can't afford to incur the wrath of the Talmadge group."
MARY FREDERICKSON:
They gave that as a reason?
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes. "We can't afford to. No, I'm sorry, we can't afford to." Then I went to the pastor of my own church. We had ample room to accomodate the group discussions and the attendance in the auditorium (in the sanctuary). And I told him exactly what the situation was and I said, "What is your thinking?" He said, "I, as the pastor of this church, am the sole authority for the use of the building and I say that you may have it." I said, "I do not want to embarrass you. I would like for you to get the Board of Stewards to accept. Do you want me to come and speak to the Board of Stewards and explain the situation to them?" He said, "No, you let me handle it. I'll talk to various key members on the Board and I think that it will be all right." And I said, "How long must I wait?" He said, "Well, we're meeting in three more days and I'll let you know." They said, "Certainly. She's the teacher of the Richardson Bible Class. We cannot deny the teacher of the Richardson Bible Class the use of our facilities. Certainly. And we will provide them luncheon, too. *" * We declined the offer of luncheon as being too burdensome on the Church staff.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, was the church protected because business interests weren't as important as for a hotel? How did the Talmadge group work?
GUION JOHNSON:
By pressure.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I mean, what would they have done if you had met at the Biltmore?
GUION JOHNSON:
Well, you can't meet in the Biltmore if the management says you can't.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I know, but say the management had, what would have been the result?
GUION JOHNSON:
Pressure would probably have been brought upon the manager and he would have lost his job. It was that simple. And probably no threat had to be made. He knew that this would be the result.