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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Guy B. Johnson, December 16, 1974. Interview B-0006. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Competition between Southern Conference for Human Welfare and Southern Regional Council

Guy Johnson explains why the leaders of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare considered the Southern Regional Council as a threat to their organization. He describes the leaders and members of the Southern Conference as increasingly radical with socialist ties. Clark Foreman also fought with Johnson over several issues, including the titles of each group's publications.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Guy B. Johnson, December 16, 1974. Interview B-0006. 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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I may be mistaken as to the time that we changed over, but I thought that it was in '44. Well, at any rate, I had decided that since we had a new organization, why not a new publication, and New South would be a good name for it. I talked to Ira Reid about it and he thought well of it. And I guess that I put it up to the executive committee and they said o.k. Oh, that reminds me now of something about Clark Foreman. I had a call one day and it was from Clark Foreman. And oh, he was just angry. He says, "Look, I hear that you are planning to publish something called New South." I said, "Yes, we are writing the stuff right now. We will soon have the first issue ready." He said, "You can't do that." I said, "Why can't I?" He said, "That's . . . the Southern Conference has plans to publish a New South." I said, "Well, look, since when?" He said, "We've often had this in mind." I said, "Well, now, look Clark. You have not published anything called New South?" "No." "You don't have anything in hand or any plans to immediately start publishing?" "Well, no." "You have not copyrighted the title?" "No." "Well, now, you don't own this title any more than anybody else and we are ready to go and we have been authorized to do it and we are going ahead." Oh, he was just mad as hell at me. I must say that I had several experiences with him like this. So, I was not one of his strong admirers.
Well, tell me a little bit more about the conflict between the Southern Conference and the Southern Regional Council, about why he dropped out of the Southern Regional Council. Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Well, when I said dropped out, I think that this would be that he just didn't show up at meetings as much as he had been the first year.
Had there been some incidents that foretold this estrangement? Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: Well, as I said, I think that the Southern Conference sort of felt threatened by the new organization. And Clark Foreman and Jim Dombrowski kept wondering about some division of labor, just how you would distinguish between the functions of these two things.
Were there discussions about how . . . Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: There was a little discussion at our charter meeting. And then, occasionally when I would see one of them, there would be a little discussion about it. And the general feeling was that the Southern Conference is an action organization, political action, etc. It doesn't claim to have tax exemption, because after all, it is frankly in the business of trying to influence legislation, etc. The Council is chartered as a non-political, educational . . . etc., with tax exemption. Tax exempt on its corporate income and donors exempt on their contributions. And it would work through educational and non-political programs and that was generally understood, I think. And this was another reason, incidentally, for the feeling during the charter meeting, when they were discussing segregation statements, that, "Well, if you are going in for that, you are working for legislative change and just might as well kiss your tax exemption good-by. And then, you are not going to get very many people to donate to it." I thought that, at least to me, it was clear enough why we were rivals, of course. But there were things in which we did not overlap. In the educational and propaganda spheres, it was very much alike, but in their direct political action, they were different from us. But the fact is, see, they were running into troubled waters financially, and were casting about trying to see how they could organize more groups around the states and get more contributions coming in. I don't know how familiar you are with their history, but you know they started out with a bang with people like Mrs. Roosevelt and Frank Graham and all that. And then gradually, the radical group did their boring from within, which was a left-wing philosophy in those years. And they got control, pretty much, of the inner machinery of the outfit. And this is why in . . . let's see, after the war started in Europe, before Hitler went into Russia, that when some of the members wanted to condemn the Nazi aggression and say that our country should stand with the West, you know, and help in every way possible, this was voted down, The theory was, as these speakers put it forth, "that's just a European quarrel." I don't know if they called it bourgeois or not, probably not, but a "bourgeois fight between some European people, and we have no business . . . "
Were you at that meeting? Dr. GUY B. JOHNSON: No. No, the fact is that I never attended a Southern Conference meeting. When it was being organized, Clark Foreman made a trip to Chapel Hill, talking to various people and telling them about the various plans and asking them to come to the organizational meeting. He never called on Dr. Odum, who was sort of the father of regionalism. Rupert Vance, who was an outstanding scholar, you know, on the Southern people . . . he didn't call on him. He didn't call on me, we didn't even know that he had been here until later, when we began to hear people talking about it. He called on a socialist professor, Erikson, in the English department and some young fellow in the John Reed Club and people like this, you know. Graduate students and the campus radicals, you see.