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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 >>

Establishing a juvenile court in Albany, Georgia

Johnson discusses how she lobbied to get a juvenile court set up in Albany, Georgia, while she was heading the Georgia Conference on Social Welfare. At the time, she explains, young African American boys were being sent to adult prison. The juvenile court was part of an effort to put a stop to this and she explains how she appealed to community leaders on the basis of religion in order to get support.

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

Then, Albany turned to me for help in setting up a juvenile court. Seven year old black boys were being arrested for shop-lifting and sent to prison [central prison] for hardned criminals.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Who in Albany came . . .
GUION JOHNSON:
The Director of the Department of Public Welfare, the county director and her board supporting her. First, I went to talk to her board. They had a board meeting to get their support in behalf of a juvenile court. Then, the pastor of the Presbyterian Church, who was a very popular man in Albany, and the editor of the newspaper [Mr. McIntosh], who was also greatly beloved. We got their assistance and got the minister to chair the meeting to establish it. The city fathers and the county board of commissioners said that it was against the law to establish the juvenile court, that if Albany wanted, if the county wanted, a special juvenile court, a special act of the legislature would have to be passed in order to get the court set up and that that would take two years. This was in the winter of '47. I said, "I doubt seriously that this is true, but I will check with the attorney general and find out." Eugene Cook was the attorney general at that time and although he was thought to be a strong Talmadge man, I felt that he would be honest with me in interpreting the law. I went to see him and talked over the situation and he said, "There is no reason at all. There is no law that prevents Albany from having a juvenile court if Albany wants a juvenile court. All they have to do is to finance it, appropriate the funds and set up the machinery." I said, "Well, will you write out an opinion on this for me so that I could have it to read in Albany?" "Yes,"he said, he would, and he wrote me a very fine statement. I said, "Will you talk to anyone by telephone if you are telephoned? Because I have been told that the superior court judge had talked to you and you had said that it was against the law." He said, "Oh no, that's not true." I said, "If he calls you, will you talk to him and tell him what you have told me?" "Yes," he said, "I will." So, we had a large community meeting in one of the churches in Albany and in the midst of the meeting, in marched (it looked to me like a thousand) members of the Highway Patrol, and lined up around the back of the auditorium. I wrote a little note to the Presbyterian minister, I asked, "Who's the leader? Why are they here?" He said, "They want to speak against the juvenile court and they are here to have a show of force to intimidate the people here." Because we were asking the people who had come to endorse the idea of a juvenile court. I asked, "Who is the leader?" and he wrote the name, "Captain So-and-So." Smith, we will call him. And when the first speaker was through, and I had made my speech, I ended by saying, "I am delighted that we have the support of the Highway Patrol here. I am pleased to see these men come and stand up in behalf of the protection of our young children. They don't want to see a five or six or seven year old child sent to Central Prison anymore than you in this audience [do]. Now, I'm going to ask Captain Smith to come up and speak to you in favor of the juvenile court." (And I had gotten a little information about him in the meantime from the Presbyterian minister. He said, "He's a deacon in the Baptist Church.") And I said, "I know that Captain Smith is a Christian. I know that Captain Smith loves every man as his fellow Christian. I'm going to ask Captain Smith to come up." And as he came down the aisle, I went to meet him, met him half way, and I shook his hand and patted him on the back. And he came [to the front] back and said, "Well, some of you here know that I haven't been too much in favor of a juvenile court, but since I've been hearing these fine talks, I'm going to say that I endorse it."
MARY FREDERICKSON:
That's incredible.
GUION JOHNSON:
So, we ended with the approval of a juvenile court.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
It was established.
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes.