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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Guion Griffis Johnson, April 24, 1974. Interview G-0029-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Conducting difficult research for the UNC sociology department while pregnant

While researching St. Helena Island, South Carolina, for the UNC sociology department, Johnson worked long days under uncomfortable conditions finding documents in Washington, D.C., and in Charleston. Throughout this time, she was also pregnant with her first son.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Guion Griffis Johnson, April 24, 1974. Interview G-0029-1. 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

GUION JOHNSON:
Well, this is the story about how the project was started, and it was extremely interesting. And it [the project] was simply to whitewash the man who was the director who had got in trouble. He was being brought here to the University and there was a big banner headline, all the way across the newspapers, about how this man who was coming to the University had got into trouble. And well, there was a movement to see that he didn't come to the University.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Now, who was this? * Willie Lee Rose, Rehearsal for Reconstruction
GUION JOHNSON:
Well, you can look in the book and find out who it was. [Laughter] And Dr. Odum very quickly began scurrying around getting research funds. He had always been interested in having something done about the St. Helena Island area, and he got the money. He was very clever at getting funds, got the money, and then just bundled us all up and sent us to St. Helena Island to begin on the project. We had to complete it in a hurry so that this man's good name would be brought back and he would be accepted into the University.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And you succeeded.
GUION JOHNSON:
So, we were working against a deadline. But when I wanted to go through as much material as I could get my hands on in Washington, it took almost a legislative act for me to be permitted to look in the Court of Claims, in the Treasury Department, in the War Records . . . and they were scattered all over Washington. And I was six, no, seven months pregnant. And I would have to sign a statement to the effect that I wouldn't use any of this material to bring suit against the United States Government. But once I was admitted for use of the records, I wasn't supervised. Finally, one of the nice men in the Treasury Department felt so sorry for me, because It was hot. Oh, it was so hot. It was in Junewhen I was working there. He said, "You just tell me the material you want, and I'll photostat it for you." So, that was a great help, that saved me quite a bit of work. Then I said, "Why in the world hasn't the Government done what North Carolina has done . . . build an archives?" And he said, "I have been wanting that done for years. Because all of our records are scattered all over." I said, "Well, I'm going back. I'll get this done for you. I'm going back to North Carolina and tell Mr. Conner that he's got to come up here and do it."
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, he did come up and was head of . . .
GUION JOHNSON:
Well, I went to him and I said, "This is ridiculous. I've had to do all of this scurrying around and some of the materials they won't even let me have. You just get Mr.[David H.] Blair - (he was Commissioner of Internal Revenue) -you just get Mr. Blair to get an act of Congress passed and you go up there and organize it." And his eyes got bigger and bigger . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
I bet.
GUION JOHNSON:
And he said, "Do you think they'll let us?" I said, "Certainly they'll let you. You'll have a lot of support from the Treasury Department." Well, he set the wheels rolling and in two years' time, he was in Washington, heading up the National Archives. I'm just so delighted that at least that came about, although he never, never once indicated where he got the idea.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I'm not surprised. [Laughter] How long did it take you to write the book?
GUION JOHNSON:
The St. Helena Island?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes.
GUION JOHNSON:
I suppose that, let me see, we went in January and I began at once collecting data and I collected data right on through until . . . and I was pregnant then when I went . . . until I went through the last copying of the old plantation records that I had found. (the afternoon before the baby was born) I located old plantation records all over the South, and went to Charleston and got. . . one old man, Mr. Langston Chavis, wouldn't let me touch the material, but he would take it out of a box in his wall safe and he would hold it up. I said, "Oh, I want every bit of this. Can't I just come and copy this out and you watch me?" "No, my dear, no. I would trust you, but I cannot do it. You tell me what you want and I'll copy it for you." And he did, in the most beautiful ante-bellum script, which I still have down in the basement in my files. Well, anyway, the late afternoon before I went to the hospital to have my first baby, I finished collecting all the data and cataloguing everything. Then, I guess I began writing the next January. He Guy Benton, Jr. was born in late August and in the meantime, I was working on Ante-Bellum North Carolina. Then, I began writing and the book was published shortly afterwards. I guess I wrote that book in about three months.