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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Guion Griffis Johnson, May 28, 1974. Interview G-0029-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Tensions among UNC academics about racial issues

Johnson compares perceptions of race at Mary Hardin-Baylor College, where she did her undergraduate work, and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she completed her doctoral degree. According to Johnson, issues of race were entirely ignored at Baylor. At UNC, however, tensions regarding views on race relations were much more prevalent. In particular, Johnson discusses how this was the case with her professor, Joseph Gregoire de Roulhac Hamilton, in the history department who opposed sociologist Howard Odum's invitation for Charles Johnson to participate in a panel discussion.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Guion Griffis Johnson, May 28, 1974. Interview G-0029-3. 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

MARY FREDERICKSON:
So then, when you went to Baylor, what was the feeling there?
GUION JOHNSON:
One never thought about the Negro. The Negro was never mentioned.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
That's very interesting. I talked to Dr. Bell Wiley about studying under Philips, and I said, "Didn't it come out about this equality business?" "No, it didn't come up." No one talked about it.
GUION JOHNSON:
No, no. Whereas in my classes here, especially in Dr. Hamilton's class . . . Hamilton Hall (laughter) . . . he would spend much time talking about the inferiority of the Negro, and in attempting to indoctrinate the members of his class about it. He often said, "As a child, the Negro is very bright and seems to give promise of development, but his mind freezes at the age of twelve. And he never develops beyond the age of twelve." This was the old ante-bellum concept and Dr. Hamilton believed it sincerely. Once in class, he said to me, "What do you have to say for the Sociology Department, when the head of the Sociology Department, Dr. Howard Odum, arose last night in Memorial Hall and introduced Dr. Charles Johnson from Fiske University as one of the distinguished Americans of our time? What have you to say for a statement like that?" "I was furious with him! For challenging me, because Dr. Odum had introduced Charles Johnson as a distinguished American. Dr. Hamilton had very conspicuously arisen from that meeting and walked out when Dr. Odum had made this introduction. And so the next day, he attacked me in class. And I responded, "I am not here to defend anything that Dr. Odum does. I am here to study the Reconstruction Period in Southern history." Which was what the class was. And there was a dead silence. You could hear a pin drop.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Why had he attended?
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, I don't recall the specifics. It seems to me that there was a panel discussion on the changing South, and that Dr. Odum was chairman of the panel and that Charles Johnson was one of the panel members. This is the way I recall it. It may have been quite different, but this is the way that I recall it.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
It's surprising that he would attend, knowing . . .
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, knowing that a black man was to be one of the panelist.