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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 >>

Ames's last speech as a leader in the Southern Regional Council

Jessie Daniel Ames was forced to resign from the Southern Regional Council. Her regret over leaving the organization showed in her emotional last speech and her call for equal alliances between black and white women.

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:
Tell me exactly how Mrs. Ames' resignation came about. I have looked through the Odum papers and found a whole series of correspondence about the problem of what to do with Mrs. Ames, and then there is no correspondence during this period in which she evidently left. And so, I really have never been able to find . . . suddenly she left. And then she writes to everybody saying that she had resigned, but how that exactly came about . . . Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Well, I am not familiar with this correspondence to Odum, but does any of it involve me, I mean, the ones that you have read? It's possible that there are one or two things, I'm not sure, but . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
I don't remember. Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: It was more likely between Dr. Will and Odum and Charles Johnson or . . . well, Mrs. Ames . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
The general gist of the earlier correspondence is that Odum should tell her that she is supposed to resign. And he evidently doesn't do it and . . . Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Oh, yes. That was the hitch, he didn't make it clear or forceful enough. And the result was that although they came in, when they asked me to be director, and told me that the whole staff was resigning, that I would have a free hand, that actually it was not true. I don't know who was at fault there, very likely Odum. He had . . . he was not very gifted at dealing with delicate personal problems like that. He would kind of put them aside and try to work his way around them, you know. Maybe he thought he had made it clear, when he actually hadn't, to Mrs. Ames. Well, anyway, this dragged along for about a month and finally one day, I believe that it was one Saturday that I was working at the office all day, and she was there all morning. And she said, "I want you to come out to lunch with me, we should have a good talk." And so, we went to a little place nearby, probably sat there for two hours. It became quite late and there was nobody in the place, so we had plenty of privacy. And so, she said something like this, "Now, I know that I have been a great problem to you, that you were no doubt told that I was going, and then you've come down here and found that I haven't resigned. But, I want you to know that I don't blame you for this or am holding it against you and I hope that we are still good friends, but it has been rather trying. I have not felt very good about it, but I do want you to know that I am resigning and I'll attend the charter meeting and then I will step aside." Well, it was very sad. I think that I discussed it a little with Josephine Wilkins, who was a very staunch friend of Mrs. Ames. And of course, she was one of the original board members of SRC and for many years on the executive committee. And she had great sympathy for Mrs. Ames' position and regretted all this having to happen. Well, I mean, it was just a little discussion. She had, no doubt, often talked to Mrs. Ames about it, so she knew what was going on. Well, then not long after this, (this would be somewhere before the middle of February, as I recall,) we had the charter meeting and . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
So, this conversation took place just before the charter meeting? Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Yeah. Quite possibly a week or ten days, but not too long before the charter meeting. And then, about a day or two before the charter meeting, Josephine came in one day and said, "Mrs. Ames is in terrible shape, she can't sleep and she is . . . I'm worried about her." I said, "Well, I hope that she can snap out of it and get to the charter meeting." And Josephine said, "I hope so, we are going to try to get her to take a sedative and maybe get some rest so that she will be all right." And I think the morning of the charter meeting, the report from Josephine was that she just wasn't too sure that Mrs. Ames was going to make it. She said, "We gave her some medicine and it just had the wrong effect. It didn't help her sleep at all, she is just climbing the wall." But she showed up, a little late, but she came into the charter meeting and you could just tell at once that she just . . . she just looked wide-eyed and wild, almost hysterical. This medicine . . . I don't have any idea what it was, it was supposed to calm her down. I had something like that once, that a doctor prescribed for me to sleep, and it just knocked me wild. So, you know, people react differently to these things, but you could just tell that she was just as tense as a drumhead and her eyes were dilated and wild looking. So, I thought, "Poor woman, there is no telling what will happen. She just might pop at any minute." And she almost did. So, after some of the preliminaries of organization, Dr. Odum presiding, he called on her to say something. He praised her for what she had done with the Commission and all that, and coming from him, you know, I could just see that it was making her feel worse. Well, she got up and talked quite at some length . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did she say? Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: She started off fairly calmly, you could tell that this was a little talk that she had been turning over in her mind and getting ready for . . . how she had appreciated the opportunity to work with the Commission all those years and she hoped that all this work had been of some value to the South, etc,, etc., She had great joy in knowing so many fine people around the South, and all this. And especially the women she had worked with and she paid a lot of praise to the churchwomen of the South . . . and of course, they really had been the backbone of the whole thing for a long time. And then, she began to get more keyed up and got to talking about women and their role in this whole business of race and how important it was that the white woman and the Negro woman get together and get a better understanding of what this was all about, that white women were still very much accustomed to thinking of the Negro woman in terms of someone who does something for her, you know. She has the old domestic servant complex, a paternalistic notion about the Negro woman. And many of them have servants and this white woman wakes up in the morning, and she hears dear Suzy coming in, she always has a key, you know. And she breathes a sigh of relief because Suzy will cook the breakfast and get the white woman's husband off to work and the white woman can go back to sleep and get a little more rest. Well, she dramatized this . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
It's so interesting. Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Yeah, and well, this went on and on . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
On about the theme of the domestic servant? Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Yeah, and how there should be a better understanding, more realism on the part of the white woman toward the black woman, because if they got to working together as real equals, you know, then they could do a lot to clear up all this mess.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did she talk about white women and black men? Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: No, that wasn't a part of it, as I recall. And then, she had her little farewell oration. And here, she almost broke, her voice got higher and more and more taut and finally, she managed to bring it to a close and she was just short of a hysterical outburst.