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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 >>

Two older historians take credit for Johnson's research

Two older historians took the credit for a historical source that Guion Johnson found during her research in Charleston. Dr. Thomas Jesse Jones of the Phelps Stokes Fund tried to fix the situation on her behalf so that it would not permanently damage the career of a young female scholar. She compares that experience with a woman's complaint that her book misrepresented her family's class status.

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

I got one beautiful colored plantation book, the James Hamilton Couper Plantation book from Birmingham, Ala. and two of the cash entry books, two huge ledgers, just beautifully kept plantation records and I made the mistake of showing the book to Dr. J. G. deR. Hamilton, and he was so enthusiastic about it that he said, "Oh, would you let me take this to the American Historical Association meeting. I just want to show it to U.B. Phillips, he will be so thrilled to see it." And you know, naive 1 Actually, I worked on the manuscript intermittently for about a year! 2 Miss Rossa B. Cooley and Miss Grace B. House and trusting as I was (I had just received my doctor's degree, you see) and I didn't think that he could possibly have any ulterior motives, and I naively let him take it, having written to the owner saying, "Dr. Hamilton would like to take this to the American Historical Association to show to some of the scholars in the field of southern history. Do you have any objections?" No, she didn't have any objections so long as I thought that the man was reliable and I would guarantee that the book would be returned Well, I told Dr. Hamilton that I wanted it back immediately afterward. I said, "You may have it for two weeks, and that's all." He didn't return it and he didn't return it and I called him and I went to see him. And he said, "Oh, I've got it at the house. I'm sorry, I'll bring it right back to you." And he still didn't return it. It took me about four or five months to get that plantation record. Then, a short time afterwards, U.B. Phillips book came out and the pictures he was using were maps from the Couper Plantation Book. I've forgotten the title of the book, I was so mad with him, I could have killed Dr. Hamilton! He Phillips had photographed the maps and published them in his book prior to the publication of my Sea Island book.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
In Life and Labor?
GUION JOHNSON:
No, not in Life and Labor, the book after that. What is the title? You know, I've got a blockage on the recall, because it made me so mad. And he said, "Materials found by Dr. J. de R. Hamilton,". . . let's see, something about. . . "materials obtained through the courtesy of Dr. J. de R. Hamilton."
JACQUELYN HALL:
How could that be? Did you say anything to him?
GUION JOHNSON:
I did. I said, "Dr. Hamilton!" And he said, "Oh, this was that stupid Phillips. I don't know what in the world made him do this." Well, of course, this was just. George Foster Peabody gave the whole St. Helena Island staff the use of TriunaIsland in Lake George to write up our findings. So, I was telling everybody there about how Hamilton and * The volume was, indeed, Life and Labor. Phillips had acted. So, George Foster Peabody came to visit, and Dr. Jones, Thomas Jesse Jones, who was director of the Phelps Stokes Fund, was there too, for the entire summer. So, Dr. Jones told Mr. Peabody and Mr. Peabody said, "I know Phillips, and I'm going to write him a letter." And he wrote him a strong letter and said, "This must be corrected in the next edition and not only that, you owe an apology." And U.B. Phillips came to Chapel Hill to apologize to me. Dr. Jones said, "Well, you're just beginning on your career. This could be very damaging to the career of a young woman who is starting. I will not let you be done this way."
JACQUELYN HALL:
Amazing. And then, did he correct it in his next edition? Did he keep using the picture?
GUION JOHNSON:
I don't know. I've never seen a second edition, so I don't know. I don't know whether it even had a second edition. It was like [an incident related to] my St. Helena Island book, Mrs. [W.S.] Lovell, who lent me the plantation manuscript and the registers, which are now, by the way, in the Southern Historical Collection, did not like my calling one of her ancestors the "general overseer" of the plantation, which he was. And she was furious about it. And she said, "You must correct this in the second edition."
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did she want you to call him?
GUION JOHNSON:
General manager.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Oh, yes, not "overseer."
GUION JOHNSON:
She said, "Only low-class white people were overseers."