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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Marion Wright, March 8, 1978. Interview B-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Remembering Guy Johnson and George Mitchell

Wright describes Guy Johnson and George Mitchell, two of the SRC's leaders. Johnson was an introverted academic; Mitchell was a charismatic coalition-builder.

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Oral History Interview with Marion Wright, March 8, 1978. Interview B-0034. 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.

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Thinking back over your years with the Council and your years of watching the Council in operation, could you make some comparisons between the style and the contributions of the different people who have been Executive Directors of the Council? It seems to me that over the years, from Guy Johnson to George Mitchell to Harold Fleming, Les Dunbar, Paul Anthony, and George Esser, there's a lot of continuity but there's also a lot of difference.
They were probably about as distinct personalities as you could find. Each had his own special flavor. Guy Johnson, of course, was an academician. He came from Chapel Hill and was a very scholarly, quiet, modest kind of man. He would never have succeeded by oratory to get people to act because of emotion. His was always a purely intellectual being and almost a little too pedantic for a successful operation. But he, coupled with Dr. Odum, gave the Council from its start a certain prestige and a certain public faith in its findings. Dr. Odum had written his Southern Regions, and Guy had been a professor of sociology for many years. And they were men who were accustomed to the methods of research and to be sure that your facts are right. They commanded the respect not only of the academic community but of the South generally. So I think if anything should be said it is that they gave us a degree of public confidence that we would not have gotten from any other source. George Mitchell succeeded Guy Johnson. Two more unlike people you could hardly imagine. George was exuberant, and he had gifts for public speaking. Completely fearless and unconventional on every issue, including race, he had the ability to inspire people emotionally, which Guy Johnson lacked. As to whether or not he was Guy's peer in organizing, I'm not equipped to say. But George deserves credit for having been behind the movement to outlaw segregation. And he conducted negotiations and helped others conduct negotiations with the Fund for the Republic, which, for the first time in the Council's existence, gave us a fairly comfortable financial situation. He did a masterful job of making out a case to this newly formed foundation. And it was asked to enter a field which most people approached with some trepidation, but George was persuasive and he got them to do that.