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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Guy B. Johnson, December 16, 1974. Interview B-0006. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Black members of the Interracial Commission disillusioned over organization's effectiveness

Guy and Guion Johnson argue that black members of the North Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation often felt disillusioned about the lack of improvement on problems they described at the meetings. Only one took the bold step of appealing for social equality, but others believed that blacks had to work through their own organizations to avoid whites' apathy. Guy also had reservations about the organization's effectiveness.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Guy B. Johnson, December 16, 1974. Interview B-0006. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
Did the issue of segregation ever come up? Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Oh, well, there was one time that I remember. There was a young Negro editor in Raleigh. What was that paper? Not the Raleigh Times . . . the Carolina Times. He was of West Indian origin and inclined to be a little more articulate than the natives, and he went to a meeting of the commission in Durham. And here they had the usual talk, nice discussions and they very rarely got any heat, any real controversy. But after lunch, he got up and said, "I've been listening to this and I'm fed up. Nobody has put his finger on the real problem, and that is social equality. And until an organization like this has the guts to say that that is the problem and we are all willing to get up and say that this person of the other race is my equal socially and every other way, and we are willing to have equal contacts, then there is no solution to this. Why don't we get down to brass tacks?" Well, you could just see them, fearful around the room and several people trying to get the floor, and one or two of the blacks got up and wanted it known that this man didn't represent their thinking. He was a sort of threat, he was rocking the boat. And some white man said, "Well, this is not anything that we can do anything about, it's not our function. Let's forget it." But there really was a stir for awhile. That's the only time that this . . . he didn't call it "segregation", you know, but "social equality."
JACQUELYN HALL:
That's interesting. Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Occasionally, somebody, a black member might have a harrowing or pathetic experience to relate and get them stirred up a little. And several would get up and express sympathy and outrage, but nothing would be resolved.
GUION JOHNSON:
I remember these testimonials. "In Elizabeth City, on such-and-such a day, this terrible thing took place." Or, "One of our acquaintances was arrested and thrown into jail and beaten up and there was no evidence at all against him." These things would come up.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did any of these testimonials expect some kind of response? What were they expecting?
GUION JOHNSON:
They were hoping, I think they were hoping. I remember that Mr. Belton said to me after one of these occasions (it was at a meeting in Durham) that he had been coming to meetings like this for ten or fifteen years and that we always expressed concern and always pointed out these fears, but he said, "I have given up hope. Nothing will ever be done." He said, "We talk about it, and then we go home and forget about it." Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: There was just nothing . . .
GUION JOHNSON:
And he felt that it was the failure of the whites to take action, to follow through on these problems that the blacks had presented. He did not see that the blacks could do anything, that their hands were tied. But . . . who was it that started these Negro Betterment Leagues? When I was on the Commission of the Status of Women and was writing about organizations for them, I had gotten a list from Dr. Larkins of some 115 Negro Betterment Leagues in North Carolina, which amazed me. I had no idea. And they were working quietly among themselves to do all they could to better their own conditions, but they were not working through the political structure. They felt that they were more or less blocked. (Interruption on tape)
JACQUELYN HALL:
I was wondering whether at the time you felt dissatisfied either with the goals of the Interracial Commission or its effectiveness in achieving them? If you could put yourself back into the historical . . . Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Is this the state commission or . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
This is the state commission. Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Well, after some years, I began to get rather skeptical of the value of any organization like this. And not just an organization that was concerned with race, but practically anything. I went through a sort of cynical, skeptical period, in which I think that I had the philosophy that all of these activities that most organizations carried on were really rather trivial and had very little to do with the achieving of their announced goals, but that they had a lot to do with the personal functions, you know. That is, what they did for the members who were taking part.