Trying to assuage race-based tensions with a coworker
Johnson describes some of the tensions she experienced with another member of the Carnegie-Myrdal Study of the Negro in America. Although she never had a direct confrontation with the person in question (an African American), Johnson explains that he believed she had no business participating in the study as a white southern woman. On the contrary, he believed that the nature of the work called for the participation of an African American man from the North instead. Johnson offers a brief anecdote regarding her effort to smooth over any lingering tensions; however, her plan backfired and made the situation worse.
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:
I was curious about the staff and your interaction with the staff while
you were there.
- GUION JOHNSON:
We had very cordial interaction. Even the . . . there was a young
Communist (Lyonel C. Florant) who was a very brilliant student in
economics and took his master's from Columbia and was working on his
doctorate at Columbia, who was the only one who was at all
antagonistic——as far as we were aware.
- MARY FREDERICKSON:
He was antagonistic from the left.
- GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, from the left. He said that he didn't want any blankity blank
southern white woman writing on racial ideology. That if Gunnar Myrdal
was to have a study of the history of racial ideology it should be from
a northern black and not a blankity blank southern white woman. I was
not aware of this undercurrent because he was always very pleasant and
cordial to me. And his wife was on the Daily Worker
staff. So, some of our friends said, "Invite him to your
apartment together. And just in your natural conversation treat him as
you would without this knowledge of his objecting to your doing the
historical study. You'll convert him." So we did invite them to
come and have dinner with us. And his wife wanted to spend all of her
time leaning out the window looking at the beautiful view into Jersey.
We were on Riverside Drive and here was the river, and the lights were
very lovely. In fact, the de Haas painting that we have was made from
almost this point. It doesn't show up quite as well because of the glass
on it. It's an oil painting but we need to have the glass removed and
the picture cleaned. Then . . . it was a lovely view of New Jersey. She
said, "I wouldn't mind being rich, if I could live in an
apartment like this and look out at this beautiful view." We
could hardly . . . by that time the children-we had sent the children
back to Chapel Hill. School was out and our housekeeper had gone back
and our cook had gone back to Chapel Hill. So we were going to take them
[the Florants] out. We were going to have hors d'oeurves and
drinks and then take them to a French restaurant. She
didn't want to go. "Don't you . . . couldn't we just have
scrambled eggs and bacon so I can sit here and look at this . . .
" So we said "No, we're sorry, we don't even have any
scrambled eggs. We're at the point now that we're working so hard we
don't even have breakfast at home." Which was true. We'd get up
and go to Childe's for breakfast and go to work. Have all three of our
meals out and come back and get to work on our study at night. Because
we were both grinding out a lot of research. We took them to a French
restaurant where we had been before and we had alerted them that we were
to bring a black couple——they were both rather
dark——and they said "Oh, no problem; no
problem." But they didn't want to seat us. They were very slow
about seating us. And then put us out, oh, away, we were almost obscured
from the rest of the dining room. And this they resented very much. So
the dinner ended with both Florant and his wife being rather frigid.
Because they were . . . it may be that they thought we had deliberately
taken them to a place where they would be embarrassed. This was the only
time we saw her; probably the last time we saw Florant. But he went to
Princeton to work for just a short time with Gunnar Myrdal and Arnold
Rose and then he died of pneumonia soon after that.