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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 >>

Role of women in the Southern Regional Council and indirect support of the organization

Johnson discusses the role of women in the Southern Regional Council. Johnson's husband, Guy B. Johnson, worked for the SRC during the years that she worked for the Georgia Conference on Social Welfare. Because she was not supposed to take public political stances, Johnson explains that she did not work directly with the SRC during these years; however, she argues that her indirect association with the organization via her husband served to somewhat link the aims of the two organizations. In addition, she briefly addresses the SRC's stand on segregation.

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:
I wanted to ask about the Southern Regional Council, what kinds of woman's work was going on. Mrs. Tilly said that they needed a woman, was she the only one?
GUION JOHNSON:
Actually, there was not any program aimed directly at women. Guy had employed, at the suggestion of Josephine Wilkins, Margaret Fisher, who had been working in some kind of war program and wanted to get out of that work and into an area dealing more directly with economic and social issues. And he thought that she would conduct women's activities. We knew immediately that when Mrs. Ames was so distraught, thinking that I was going to take her job, that it would be extremely unwise for me to have anything to do with the work, and that this would just add, complicate any problem that Guy might have. So, I stayed away, almost never went to the office. But Margaret Fisher was not interested in directing any concentrated program for women, and there was this void on the staff until Mrs. . . . The approach was on a man-woman basis, women were invited. And then some of the leaders in the community, Mrs. Havens, for example, in Florida, was one of his contact persons in Florida, so he had women [leaders in the state there, and Mrs. Spellman in South Carolina, but they were to work with the broad spectrum of the population and not just with women. It was not until Mrs. Tilly was employed that the work was aimed specifically with women, although she too worked with men's groups and mixed groups.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Now, you didn't, or did you, directly support the work of the Southern Regional Council in you own work?
GUION JOHNSON:
No, I . . .
MARY FREDERICKSON:
How did you support . . .
GUION JOHNSON:
Just by it being known that I was Guy's wife. That was the only way. I did not want to be put in the position of or jeapordize my own usefulness by promoting the Southern Regional Council. I felt that my best way, the best way to promote the Southern Regional Council was to demonstrate my own humanity and care for people and concern for the welfare for all mankind and to let my personal integrity and concern show, rather than by mentioning the Southern Regional Council as an organization that you ought to support. No, mine was entirely an indirect support and then I learned a great many things about the power structure throughout the state, which I would pass on to Guy, which gave him insight into situations. And would know who was undermining the program, who would counter attack. In this way, I was useful.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Do you think you filled some of the void for not having . . .
GUION JOHNSON:
Oh, I don't think that I made any contribution at all to the Southern Regional Council. 1 1 At one time, SRC helped me in a very real way. I was Chairman of the Social Studies Committee of the Atlanta Branch of AAUW, and the Committee was interested in (footnote continued in next page) I can't claim having made any contribution at all. It was very indirect. I would hope that I was able to establish some goodwill for the group through the many personal friendships that I formed, and when they (others) found out, (that my husband was director of SRC) they'd say, "Who is this Guion Johnson?" Because my name was very frequently in the paper. (John Ivy who left here and went to Atlanta to head up the Southern Education Board, which is now directed by John Griffin, said . . . came back three or four years later to Chapel Hill, and we had him and his wife for dinner, and he said to me, pointing to me with his finger, "You left your tracks all over Georgia.") So, I think that in that way, I might have been indirectly helpful. "Who is this Guion Johnson?" "Oh, her husband is the Director of the Southern Regional Council." "The Southern Regional Council!" Then, someone would come to my defense, you see. "Well, her husband must not be all bad." 1 1 This sounds outrageous! Horribly egotistical! I apologize to Guy and to the reader.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
That was the feeling about the Southern Regional Council?
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, the fear was that the Southern Regional Council was endorsing integration, was fighting separation of the races. They opposed the separation of the races and they the Council wanted to break down all barriers and wanted the blacks to come into the schools and go into the lunchrooms and all that sort of thing. And of course, there was a great deal of fear about this. And it was on these fears that g$t Talmadge's political machine operated.