Partial Transcript: The f--(clears throat)--the following interview with Lyman Johnson was conducted on Friday, March the twenty-third, 1979 between 2:30 and 6 in the afternoon at the home of Lyman Johnson.
Segment Synopsis: Johnson discusses visiting one of his nieces at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. She had been raised in the North and did not initially want to live in the South because of the overt racism. Her grand aunt offered to pay for her schooling if she went to a southern college. She stayed in the South because she married a doctor who was able to set up a practice because his father was a professor. When Johnson visited her, he saw how life was good for her as long as she stayed on the college campus. His niece told him that she would talk for him because his civil rights advocacy would get them in trouble in the South. Johnson describes how women were not allowed to stay on the college campus despite attending a conference. Some elements of racism in the South are also described throughout the discussion. He talks briefly about Rosa Parks standing up against this racism, in contrast to his niece who wanted to stay silent.
Keywords: Civil rights advocacy; Families; Nieces; Protests
Subjects: African American college students.; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Southern States.; Discrimination.; Family histories.; Family--history; Fisk University.; Parks, Rosa, 1913-2005.; Racism; Tuskegee Institute.; United States--Race relations.; Women in higher education.
Partial Transcript: Isn't that human nature? See, Rosa Parks, as you said, had nothing to lose.
Segment Synopsis: Johnson discusses how not protesting is viewed by the oppressors as silent agreement, and gives multiple examples of segregation. The first example is of segregation in the Louisville Free Public Library system. He and a group of people were invited to a Board of Trustees meeting at the main library. They were escorted directly to the meeting room because black people weren't otherwise allowed in the library. It didn't occur to the Board that the black citizens didn't like the segregation because they never complained. He also discusses when he left his hometown to go to boarding school and the only way to get there was a segregated train, which meant silent agreement to the segregation. Another example of segregation was when he and two companions were coming back after finishing college. They stopped at a restaurant that provided them the same service but made them eat in the kitchen. He discusses a fourth example of segregated treatment when he was invited to a conference of labor leaders at the Brown Hotel in Louisville. There was a complicated process of allowing him as a black man to enter the hotel. When he entered and left on the elevators, the black women (former students of his) who operated the elevators were afraid of losing their jobs because he rode the elevators designated for white people. He does not condemn these former students for cooperating with white people but does condemn his niece for attempting to "muzzle" him because she was educated and he thought she should have shown better leadership.
Keywords: Brown Hotel; Dr. C.H. Parrish; Dr. G.D. Wilson; James Graham Brown; Jim Crow; Jim Crow laws; John L Lewis; John L. Lewis; Labor leaders; Louisville Free Public Library (LFPL); Racial slurs; The Brown Hotel
Subjects: AFL-CIO; African Americans--Segregation; Ashland (Ky.); Discrimination.; Lewis, John L. (John Llewellyn), 1880-1969.; Louisville (Ky.); Louisville Free Public Library.; Mt. Sterling (Ky.); Race discrimination.; Richmond (Va.); Segregation; Segregation in transportation; Segregation.; United States--Race relations.
Hyperlink: 2009ms131: Second Grade, College Hill School, teacher Queenie Moore (Lyman T. Johnson is 9 from left, second row), Wade Hall papers, 1876-1998, undated, University of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center.
Partial Transcript: It took a brave person, though, didn't it, to, to, to do what you are suggesting she should have done.
Segment Synopsis: Johnson discusses his niece and her husband, who live at Tuskegee, and his brothers' families. His niece's husband Thomas Campbell had to work for the black community at Tuskegee as well as for the whole community and ended up dying of a heart attack. He describes two of his brothers who lived in New York. He describes how the race relations in Columbia and Tuskegee have improved dramatically, partly because of a series of civil rights laws that Lyndon B. Johnson enacted. He states that some of the white people in the south are glad to be emancipated from their own racist traditions because it allows both races to rise higher. He describes how there was good camaraderie between races as long as African Americans held the belief that they were inferior, but that to some extent this good feeling still held after they abandoned pronouncements of superiority and inferiority. He tells the story of a student who attended the same school as him appealing to a white senator to get funding for his education.
Keywords: Civil rights; LBJ; Lyndon B. Johnson; Race relations; Tuskegee (Ala.)
Subjects: African American physicians; African Americans--Civil rights; African Americans--Civil rights--Southern States; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Education.; African Americans--Legal status, laws, etc.; African Americans--Southern States.; Civil rights--Law and legislation; Columbia (Tenn.); Family histories.; Family--history; Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973; Tuskegee Institute.; United States--Race relations.; United States. Civil Rights Act of 1964
Partial Transcript: You know one interpretation of the Uncle Remus stories is that Brer Rabbit stands for the, uh, the black man and woman who lived in a society of stronger animals, Brer Fox and Brer Wolf, and so on, and he had to survive by his, uh, cunning.
Segment Synopsis: The interviewer and Johnson discuss the Uncle Remus stories and state how if African Americans were smart enough to survive under slavery, they should be able to survive and thrive afterwards. Johnson uses his family as an example, with his grandfather as a slave who bought his own freedom and was an inspiration for Johnson's father who came from poverty to graduate college and wanted Johnson to benefit from his progress. The interviewer suggests that this should be a source of pride for African Americans, that they have been able to survive slavery and make a lot of progress in a relatively short amount of time.
Keywords: Br'er Fox; Br'er Rabbit; Br'er Wolf; Bre'r Rabbit; Brer Fox; Brer Rabbit; Brer Wolf; Tar Baby; Tar Baby story; Tar-Baby; Uncle Remus; Uncle Remus stories
Subjects: African Americans--Economic conditions.; Civil rights--Law and legislation; Family histories.; Family--history; Race discrimination.; Segregation; Segregation.; Slavery--United States.
Partial Transcript: I got a brother down in Tennessee who has two daughters who are registered nurses.
Segment Synopsis: Johnson discusses a nephew who is on the police force in his hometown and how when Johnson was a kid, the police were the most despised people to the black community. He describes how they would go down in the Black neighborhoods, beat up a man, handcuff him and take him in. His nephew is allowed to arrest both black and white people. Johnson describes a black man in Louisville who attained the status of Major. When he started, he was assigned to direct traffic around a middle school but was instructed not to arrest white people. A white man was going too fast in the school zone and the black policeman tried to get him to stop but the man refused to obey because he was black. This white man went to chief of police to complain about a black man trying to control a white man. Johnson says it takes some whites a lot of time to get used to a black person having authority over a white person. Johnson tells another story about a white child who was being disruptive and was brought back to his classroom by two white kids and two white teachers. His black teacher wrote him up but the white child objected to a black man telling him what to do and the child complained to his parents who then put pressure on the principal to do something about the black teacher. Johnson states that some people resent that he is outspoken on the board of education as a black man. He has been threatened with violence multiple times to get him to resign.
Keywords: Discrimination in law enforcement.; Law enforcement; Police race relations; Power; Power dynamics; Racial profiling in law enforcement.; Racial slurs
Subjects: Family histories.; Family--history; Police; Police-community relations.; Race discrimination.; Race relations--Kentucky; Racism; Teachers; Teachers--Kentucky; Teaching; United States--Race relations.
Partial Transcript: Uh, what was the population of, uh, Maury County, Tennessee, approximately?
Segment Synopsis: Johnson discusses the racial makeup of his hometown, stating that African Americans made up about one fourth of the population compared to whites. He states that the plantation areas drove away the poor whites because they couldn't compete with slaves, which left the rich whites. After slavery, there were pockets of poor whites and few ex-slaves. The best farming land had plantation owners with many black servants. Johnson describes Maury County as an area that produced corn and hay, with not too much cotton or tobacco. Johnson describes how mule raising was a big industry when he was in his teens and twenties. People from plantation areas came to Maury County to buy mules to bring back to the plantations.
Keywords: "Mule Town"; Columbia, Tennessee; Maury County (Tenn.); Maury County, Tennessee
Subjects: Columbia (Tenn.); Plantations; Slavery--United States.; United States--Race relations.
Partial Transcript: Isn't that one of our national tragedies that, that at that time for the--when the, when the black freedman was subjected to the same kind of life that the poor white had been subjected to since the beginning of this country and even in Europe before that, that they didn't realize that they had common cause?
Segment Synopsis: They discuss the plight of the poor white man and freed black people after slavery. They describe how the system set up the poor whites to think they were superior despite being in the same condition, and thus they weren't allowed to work together to better themselves. He thinks the capitalist system is "rotten to the core." Johnson describes how the current system still favors white people simply because they're white. He mentions a cousin who hasn't accomplished as much as he has but is able to go wherever he wants because he is able to pass for white.
Keywords: Passing (racial identity); Poverty; Racial slurs; White privilege
Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Discrimination in education.; Race discrimination.; Racism; United States--Race relations.
Partial Transcript: Lyman, let's--let me go back a minute to, we were talking about the Uncle Remus stratagem, I guess.
Segment Synopsis: Johnson describes the concept of "putting on a coon act," which is where a black person acts like they like what is happening, putting on an act to cater to white people. The interviewer describes a story where a white man picked up an educated African American hitchhiker. They were stopped by the police outside of a town and this black man "put on a coon act," making up an elaborate story and told it in "coon dialect," and the police believed him and let them through. The black man then immediately went back to his normal standard English. Johnson then tells a story about a time he was waiting tables and other black employees put on "coon acts" to get more tips. A customer asks for a glass and he goes and gets a clean glass, but the customer was mad at him for taking so long. Another black employee showed Johnson what he did instead, which was to grab a dirty glass from another table, and this got him more tips than Johnson. This man showed him another way to get money, by sitting by a door where the white people were coming in and putting on a "coon act."
Keywords: "Coon Act"; "Coons"; "Monkey shine"; "Monkeyshine"; Coon Acts; Coon caricatures; Monkeyshine; Racial slurs; Uncle Remus
Subjects: African Americans--Economic conditions.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Race discrimination.; Racism
Partial Transcript: Let's, let's review in the remaining few minutes, uh, your education.
Segment Synopsis: Johnson describes his education. He went to a school that had 1st to 11th grades in the same building, with each grade up until the 8th grade having its own teacher. His father was the principal as well as his math teacher. It was called College Hill School and was the school for African Americans. He describes some of his teachers, including his first grade teacher and the teacher who taught him grammar. Johnson gives his negative opinion on Black English dialect, stating that he thinks it's a "cop out" and that it's not real English. They go on to discuss the physical properties of the school building, including its lack of a dining facility as well as its drinking water facilities, restrooms, and heating system. He describes a party he went to as a teenager and briefly talks about how he didn't date as a young person. He describes having to go to an academy at Knoxville College for people who went to "substandard" schools who were not ready for university because he didn't have the ability to go to 12th grade. He went to Virginia Union University afterwards, having completed some of freshman work at Knoxville College.
Keywords: African American Vernacular English (AAVE); Virginia Union; Virginia Union University
Subjects: African American college students.; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Education.; Baptists.; Black English.; College students, Black; Columbia (Tenn.); Education; Knoxville College; Minorities in higher education; Minorities in higher education.; Presbyterian.; Presbyterians.; Virginia Union University (Richmond, Va.)
Hyperlink: 2009ms131: Second Grade, College Hill School, teacher Queenie Moore (Lyman T. Johnson is 9 from left, second row), Wade Hall papers, 1876-1998, undated, University of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center.
HALL: The f--(clears throat)--the following interview with Lyman Johnson wasconducted on Friday, March the twenty-third, 1979, between 2:30 and 6:00 in the afternoon at the home of Lyman Johnson. The interviewer is Wade Hall.
[Pause in recording.]
HALL: Why don't we get some of this on tape, anyway. In 1955, you went to geta--a niece?
JOHNSON: I went to visit a niece on the campus of Tuskegee--Tuskegee Institute,Alabama. Uh, she had been reared in Rochester, New York, and had no interest in anything south as a young lady coming up. She was reared in rather nice 00:01:00circumstances. Before she had finished high school, she had made three of what her grand-aunt called cultural visits to Paris.
JOHNSON: And, uh, three--three different summers before she finished highschool, she'd, uh, spent time over there. And she had no interest whatsoever in the South. She had gone to school, high school, all the way through, and, uh, very few, uh, blacks were in her classes. When she finished high school, the grand--I mean, the--the, uh, aunt, grand-aunt, who was so much interested in seeing her get all of her cultural development as well as academic, suggested to her, "Now, I will pay all of your expenses through college, but you must go to 00:02:00one of the Southern Negro colleges, because you've had no experience whatsoever with Negroes, that is, to amount to anything (??)."
JOHNSON: "And I want you to know what it--it's like to be a Negro."
HALL: That's interesting.
JOHNSON: So they settled on Fisk University.
JOHNSON: All this time, all four years in college, she was just determined thatas soon as she could get out of this benighted Southland, she'd head back up north. Well, that sounded good, but, uh, Meharry Medical School is just, uh, four or five blocks, uh, removed from Fisk University, and somehow, when young people's fancy turn to love, they forget some of these--(Hall laughs)--high-sounding things. There was a young man graduating from medical 00:03:00school at the same time that she graduated from college, whose father was a professor at Tuskegee Institute. And they married. She--the first big argument they had was that he would have to leave the South and set up practice up North somewhere, because she couldn't stand the South. First, it was just too hot. When it got--(Hall laughs)--when summertime came, it was just too hot for her. (Hall laughs) And second, she couldn't stand all these white folk down there. They were mean. Made her ride in the back end of the bus. They made--uh, they--they wouldn't let her go to the, uh, regular theaters ----------(??). She couldn't go to--there's just so many things that were open to her up North.
HALL: Um-hm. Now, this was in--uh, this would have been early fifties?
JOHNSON: No, this--
JOHNSON: --must have been about, uh, say, '45, '46--
JOHNSON: --'47. Somewhere in those days.
JOHNSON: So, uh, the young man said, "Now, look. My daddy is the--is--is--is a00:04:00big shot professor on the campus, and if I just go and hang my shingle up there with his name and the MD behind it, I--I've got it made. And I am going right there and set up business, and you are going with me." (Hall laughs) She said, "I can't stand it." He said, "You--you're already hooked." (Hall laughs) And so they set up in--in Alabama. And ten or eleven years later, I went down to visit them. And I was talking--I was--I was in the--in the heyday of my civil rights movement. And she had gotten so--uh, I guess, addicted to that--to university life. As long as a black stayed on the campus, they had culture, refinement--
JOHNSON: --and everything else just--it was just, uh, uh--it--it--it was just00:05:00high living.
JOHNSON: Her daddy--I mean, her husband was a doctor. Her--her father-in-law wasa professor. And they just meandered through their cultured society on the campus.
JOHNSON: And they knew not to go out in town--
JOHNSON: --not to go up to Montgomery.
JOHNSON: If they had to go anywhere, they would--they would just wait until theygot the chance to go to Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland, and New York, and whatnot, and then have their, uh, little, uh, uh, social aspirations assuaged. But down there, they just stayed on the campus. And I remember, my niece said, "Now, Lyman, you have been highly, um, publicized for your civil rights work up in Kentucky, but when you walk across this campus--now, whatever you say inside 00:06:00this house just stays here. But when you get out on this campus, I'll be your mouth--mouthpiece. Now, you're not going to say--I--I'm not going to let you get started, and to start talking a lot of your civil rights stuff down here. At that time, when a white person--especially a woman. When a white woman would come to the campus to any kind of a conference, or a lecture, or whatnot, she had to be put up in one of the hotels downtown. She couldn't stay on campus.
JOHNSON: Just the year before I went down, there was one white woman who camedown to, uh, be one of the panelists in, uh, one of the university forums, workshops, conferences. And, uh, she was to be there three days, but 00:07:00everyb--it--it was highly publicized all around that this big, uh, national workshop would be going on, and the speakers, participants. Now, the officials of the town came up there the second day of the workshop, looking for this particular woman. They knew she was in town. They knew she had participated in the workshop the first day. And they knew she was slated for a ten o'clock appearance the next morning. But they checked all the rooming--(Hall laughs)--places out in town, and she was not listed, and they wanted to know, where in the hell did she stay? And if she stayed on the campus, they were going to have her arrested for misconduct or something. Uh, uh, disorderly conduct. Now, under those sort of circumstances, here my niece was telling me, "Don't you 00:08:00open your mouth, because we are getting--we are going over big now. We've just about gotten adjusted here, and you could just spoil it all." (Hall laughs) I said, "Well, how can you stand it?" I said, "You're the one that--you--you said you were not going to live in the South. You'd never live in the South. And here you are condoning the South."
JOHNSON: She said, "My husband is going over big, and I love him. He says,sooner or later, he's going to build me a nice, pretty house, and it's going to be air conditioned, and I'm going to stay in my house, and I'm just going to enjoy all that he can bring in here." I said, "But how can you--how can you bottle yourself up--uh, bottle yourself up into a house and make your own home a penitentiary?" I said, "No. The--the whole world lives outside of your house." 00:09:00
JOHNSON: She said, "Lyman, when we go out on the campus, I want you to keep yourmouth shut, and I'll tell the people what a great man you are, and all that kind of stuff. I'll do your--I'll--I'll do your talking. I know what to say." Well, when Rosa Parks came by, just a few miles over in Montgomery, this niece invited me back down. And she said, "I want to apologize. I didn't--I just--I just know how stupid you thought I--I--I must have been when I was telling you back there in '55 to keep your mouth closed." And I was saying, "Don't you know, as long as you keep your mouth closed, you're going to have to take this kind of stuff?"
JOHNSON: "Now, here's a person without any--any--any--any--any, uh,father-in-law who is a professor. Here's a woman whose husband is not a doctor." 00:10:00
JOHNSON: "Here's a woman who is just a plain domestic servant--servant, and Idoubt whether she finished eighth grade. And now she becomes your emancipator. Now, don't you feel ashamed?"
JOHNSON: She says, "Uncle Lyman, I apologize. I just don't--yeah--I"--she says,"I know just about what you must have thought about me."
HALL: But isn't that human nature? See, Rosa Parks, as you said, had nothing tolose, I mean, except--
JOHNSON: --nothing to--nothing to--
HALL: --except her life--
HALL: --except her life.
JOHNSON: Nothing to lose.
HALL: But you see, do you think that's been a--a problem with--
HALL: --with blacks?
JOHNSON: I'm--I--I tell them all along, when you cooperate, when you don't--whenyou don't protest, you are cooperating with your--with your adversary.
JOHNSON: Uh, what did--
JOHNSON: --what did, uh, Rabbi Rauch tell me? Do you--uh, ha--uh, uh, you mayhave heard of him.
JOHNSON: He--I think he died ----------(??).
HALL: I've--I've heard of--I've heard of him.00:11:00
JOHNSON: He used to be the chairman of the board of trustees for the uni--forthe, uh, Louisville--get this--Free Public Library. Free Public Library. When I came to this town, Negroes couldn't go in the building at Fourth and York, main library. They said, "You have your branches. One is the Western, one is the Eastern."
HALL: But you could go into clean up, though, but you couldn't go in to use the--
JOHNSON: --well, yeah, uh, if you went in to clean up, then you were a janitor.
HALL: That's what I mean, yeah.
JOHNSON: Yeah, you could go in as a janitor or hired--
HALL: --but you couldn't go in as a patron.
JOHNSON: Uh, but--but you couldn't go in there to read a book.
JOHNSON: Uh, I know you've, uh, heard of Dr. C.H. Parrish.
JOHNSON: He used to be a professor at the U of L, black fellow at--at the U ofL. Uh, before that, uh, uh, he was a professor over at, uh, the, uh, Negro college attached to the University of Louisville, which was called Louisville Municipal College, uh, all--all blacks. Now, here's a professor who couldn't go 00:12:00down to the main library to--to--to look at any of the reference works there. Uh, Dr. G.D. Wilson, another professor, PhD, but, a PhD wouldn't--wouldn't--wouldn't--wouldn't help you get into a library.
JOHNSON: So we, uh, we got a little group of sixteen, and we went into the mainlibrary at a board of ed--a board of, uh, trustees meeting. And, uh, they were courteous that day, and invited us in. And you'd come in, and they e--escorted us, so as to be sure that didn't any of us--(Hall laughs)--wander out into the reference room, or the reading room, or, uh, whatnot. Just--just--and--and of--and of all places, not--not even to the restroom. Just in the main door and 00:13:00around the corner, and, uh, around another corner, and--and there we were, in the, uh, room where the trustees were meeting. And we were asking them, why would they not permit Negroes to use a free public city library? And they--they said, uh, well, they just couldn't--couldn't afford to do it, and--and--and Mr.--well, one of the trustees said, "Well, for instance, um, we--we don't have enough money to provide, uh, anymore, uh, toilet facilities. And, uh, we just can't, uh, uh, just can't afford to--to--to have any more toilet facilities here."
Uh, then the rabbi came along, and he said, "Well, I tell you, the white folk00:14:00don't like it--don't--don't--wouldn't like, uh, integration. Uh, Negroes never said anything about it up until now. Uh, they have their libraries. The whites have theirs, and, uh, we thought everybody liked it. And it just never occurred to us that, uh, some of you might want to--want to use, uh, the--the same--same place. We just thought everybody liked it." And that is when, uh, I--I spoke up and said, "Mr.--Mr. Chairman, you ought to disqualify yourself as a member of the board of trustees if you--if you really believe that the Negroes liked it." He said, "Well, they've never said anything about it, uh, before." Well, now, that--that--
JOHNSON: --that's the point I'm making.00:15:00
JOHNSON: That's the point I'm making. As long as we don't raise a complaint,they--whoever the they are--they can assume that, uh, everything's going all right--
JOHNSON: --like it ought to, because nobody complained.
JOHNSON: --they must like it.
HALL: How did you feel being escorted through the library to the boardroom as ifyou were prisoners, convicts, or something? I mean--
HALL: --that's the way you were--were.
JOHNSON: Um-hm. Um-hm.
HALL: It seems to me that it--uh--
JOHNSON: --well, you see, uh, it's, uh, it's, uh, it's almost, uh, like askingwhen I left, uh, my hometown, Columbia, to go to Knoxville to go to school, to go to boarding school. As much as I had been coached by my parents not to voluntarily segregate myself, I didn't want to walk all the way, and the means 00:16:00of transportation in those days was a train.
JOHNSON: And if I wanted to go from Columbia to Knoxville by train, I'd have toride in the Jim Crow coach.
JOHNSON: Well, it's just that simple. Um, there were things that I had to have,and if I got them, so much, uh, uh, say, cooperation was necessary.
JOHNSON: I had to agree to ride in the segregated coach, or walk.
JOHNSON: Uh, many a times I've been hungry as hell, and, uh, I--I--I can starve,or go around and eat in the kitchen. As much as I de--de--detest it, I have 00:17:00eaten in--in--in the kitchen. I--I was coming back, uh, after finishing college, uh, three of us young, uh, college graduates, uh, over at Richmond, Richmond, Virginia, where we graduated, uh. Three of us were coming this way, that is, toward Louisville. I was coming to Louisville, and two were coming as far as Mount Sterling, Kentucky. And, uh, they had--one of them had a car--had use of a car. And the three of us, uh, were in the car. And we were coming, uh, down through the mountains, and much--uh, let's see(??), we--we hadn't, uh--we hadn't had anything to eat since we left Richmond. And the pangs of hunger were beginning to beat on us. And we stopped at some little, uh-- 00:18:00
JOHNSON: --one near Ashland, Kentucky. Somewhere up by the--and we drove up tothis place, and, uh, they said, "Yes, what is it, fellas?" And we told them. We saw such--just an enticing sign up there, and we were just--just in good--good--good position to--to eat a real good hefty breakfast. And they said, "Well, yes, we--we--we're glad to accommodate you. Come on in." And we came in, and they took us down the side of the, uh, uh, big dining room, didn't--didn't 00:19:00parade us right through the center of the thing, just down. Came in the main door, pulled off to the side and--and carried us all the way back past the counter, past the, uh, cashier's counter, down past the, uh, serving counter and--and opened the door, and there's the kitchen. And it had, uh, one of the waiters clear a table and put a nap--uh, tablecloth on it, and have a seat fellas. And we said, uh, huh, "Why--why do you go to all this trouble?" They said, "Do you--do you think we gonna feed you niggers out there in the dining room?" Said, "Now, we'll give you the same food. We'll give you the same food. Give you the same service except that you're not going to be out there." And, uh, we were hungry. And we didn't think any other place up in that area would be any better. And at least they--they gave us a clean tablecloth, nice clean 00:20:00silver, dishes, napkins, everything except the--we had to eat in the kitchen.
HALL: Well, what year would that have been?
JOHNSON: Well, uh, let's see. I--I graduated in '30, so it was in 1930.
HALL: Well, in fact it was a little bit liberal of the man to allow you to eatin the kitchen, wasn't it?
JOHNSON: Yeah, he told us when we left to go out the side door and go on round.See, we--we'd already gotten to the front door there, and so he just, "Yeah, come on in. Come on in. Come on."
HALL: 'Cause he could have gotten into trouble, couldn't he--
HALL: --with his waiters (??).
JOHNSON: Oh yeah. What about Brown Hotel? Brown--Brown building, you--you knowwhere they have, uh, this, uh, place at, uh, 4th, uh, uh Broadway and River Mall. Used to be Brown Hotel there, old J. Graham Brown, millionaire, oh yes, it was a lot of--lot of stuff around here, and that Brown Hotel was a sure fix. In 00:21:001946, uh, John L. Lewis was in his hay day as a labor leader. And he came to town for a conference in the labor service. I was a teacher down at, uh, Central High School, and the phone rang in the office there. "We'd like to speak to Mr. Lyman Johnson." Well, Mr. Johnson, the--the clerk had already been instructed as usual by the principal not to get people out of class. Just let them teach, and take the message, and they have to call back. Let them--tell them when they will be free to call. They may call back at their planning period, which --and tell 00:22:00what time that will be. They may call at their lunch period, or they may call after school or before school, and, uh. a message would be given to the teacher, but, uh, we don't take teachers out of classes. So, uh, the clerk, uh, just a little nosey went on beyond, uh, the general instruction and just said to one of the other clerks there at the desk, and the principal was standing by and heard it, she says, "Oh, Mr. Johnson is being invited to the Brown Hotel." And the principal turned around and said, "What's that? What's that? What's that? Uh, who--who's inviting Mr. Johnson to the Brown Hotel?" And, uh, she said, uh, "A Mr. Wyler." Name was Ed Wyler. Ed Wyler was--at--at that time was the executive secretary of the, uh, AFLCIO.
JOHNSON: Yes. Wyler said that John L. Lewis was in town, and they--they werehaving a conference at 4:00 with all the labor leaders that can find it possible to be there. You are invited. Now, whether that tells you anything or not, I was considered a labor leader back in 1946 in this town. But the main--main thing I want to say is that I called to get further instruction to be sure that somebody wasn't pulling--you know, pulling a joke on me. And, uh, I said, "Mr. Wyler, you know, you know Mr. Bro--Mr., uh, J. Graham Brown's philosophy on negroes coming in that hotel." I said, "I'm not thinking about going down the alley and coming up the freight elevator. And I'm not thinking about putting on a white jacket 00:24:00to--to get in even on the--on the freight elevator." He said, "Mr. Johnson, you come right on, and we will have five men waiting for you. When you get there you come about ten minutes to 4:00 and come to a certain door. We will have five men waiting for you, and you get in the middle, and all of you just go on in, get in the elevator and go on upstairs, and you'll be in on the fourth floor room four-something, four-six and whatnot. And you'll be in there for b--uh, before J. Graham Brown knows you're anywhere near." I said, "Uh, it'd be your resp--I would be there, but it'll be your responsibility, and I'm not going in the back door, not gonna put on a white--a--a white jacket." Well, I got there. I went up on an elevator to the fourth floor. Everything worked all right until I got 00:25:00ready to get off the elevator. Now, in those days they had girls operating the elevators, negro girls. Well, I guess there were about eight or ten people on the elevator that I went up on, and when I was trying to get off, I felt as if my coattail was hung on some hook or hanger or something there, and I didn't want to snag it, so I was very careful to look back, and there was the negro girl holding my coattail until I'd be the last one to get off. And, uh, she--she whispered to me. Now all the rest, obviously, were white people. She whispered to me. She said, "Mr. Johnson, now you were one of my best teachers at Central High School, but my job, in addition to being the operator of this elevator, is 00:26:00to see that no negroes ride this elevator. Now, when you came on I knew you. I saw you, and I didn't say anything about it. These other people didn't say anything about you. I wasn't going to say anything about you. But now when you get off of here, don't you tell anybody what elevator--what number you came up on, 'cause I'll lose my job. And don't you come back on this one coming down." When the meeting was over we--we ran from 4:00 until about, uh, 6:30. When the meeting was over I remembered not to go back on that elevator, and so, uh, I sort of got in with a bunch and went down on--on another elevator. And when I got to the first floor, the same thing happened. My coattail was being held, and 00:27:00I was the last one to get off. And the negro girl there told me. Said, "Mr. Johnson, I used to think you were a nice teacher. I still think you're a nice fella. But don't you tell anybody that you rode down on my elevator because I'll lose my job." Brown Hotel.
HALL: Can you blame those two girls--
JOHNSON: --no, no, no no--
HALL: --for or your--or your niece?
JOHNSON: I don't blame the two--two--two girls.
HALL: You blame your niece?
JOHNSON: Yeah, yeah.
HALL: Why? These girls obviously are elevator operator--elevator operator. Musthave been working for minimum, the--the--the most--and--and--and J. Graham Brown was notorious for paying low wages. And these were perhaps the lowest of all. 00:28:00Just a, uh, obviously they were not, uh, university graduates. Obviously they were not in leadership positions. Obviously they were the ones who needed the people like my niece to help lead them out of the wilderness. I--the, the opportunities for, uh, extricating the whole group were better with my niece than with my--with--with my former students who barely got out of high school. Yes, I remember. At the time I remember, I don't who they are now, but, uh, I see that was '46 and multitude of years ago. I don't remember any individual people, but my story, uh, makes me remember them as people who, uh, oh, I guess the teachers are a little gratuitous when they get ready for market, and they graduate without, uh, undo, uh, academic honors. 00:29:00
HALL: So you didn't expect---
HALL: --as much from them as you--
JOHNSON: --didn't expect--
HALL: --as you did--
HALL: --from educate--
JOHNSON: --real, uh, refined leadership out of them, but I did expect it out ofmy niece. And--and--and more so do I condemn my niece for trying to, uh, muzzle me. Now you don't need to say it, uh, uh, Helen (??). That's what my niece's--I say, "You don't need to say--j--just, just let me say it." She said, "No, you'll get me in trouble. I am housing you. You are my guest, and they'll say that I brought this agitator on the campus, and--and--and what'll it do to my, my father-in-law? His job will be wiped out. When the--when the people over there in the--when the white people over there find out that they got a bunch of, uh, communist, uh, agitators on the campus they want to weed them out, and they already have it against me that I came from up north, and I'm trying my best to 00:30:00get along down here." And I, well, that's--that's the point, and, uh--
HALL: --well, it took a brave person, though, didn't it to--to--to do what youwere suggesting she should do.
JOHNSON: Well, sure, sure. Down in--down in, uh, Tuskegee. The only point ofbringing all this in is that, uh, the civil rights laws, voting rights law arranged it so that black people can vote, and they've undone a lot of that stuff now ----------(??). In Tuskegee it--it--it--it was, it was a marvel when, uh--when--when--when black people decided to--to--to put, uh, blacks in the mayor's office and in the constable's office and--and--and in all the offices down there in the city council, uh.
HALL: You know that the mayor, I think it's the mayor, married a white womanfrom Union Springs.
JOHNSON: Yeah, yeah--I--I--I talked to both of them.00:31:00
HALL: What's his name?
JOHNSON: Now I forgot.
HALL: Johnny something?
JOHNSON: Yeah, but I--
HALL: --not Johnny Main but something like that.
JOHNSON: Oh, I--uh, yeah, I've--I've talked to both of them, man(??) and hiswife, yeah, I--I know them.
HALL: Does your niece still--
JOHNSON: --yeah, her husband--
HALL: --live in Tuskegee?
JOHNSON: Her husband's, uh, dead now. Uh, he, uh, I don't know, had a heartattack or something. Oh, he had a--he--he just overworked himself. Not enough--not enough, uh, real good doctors down that way.
HALL: Was his practice among the black community of Tuskegee Institute--
HALL: --or the entire town?
JOHNSON: He--he worked himself to death doing both. He--the base--the base ofhis real, uh--he--he got started by being the, um, uh, campus physician. And you know, that was pull from his daddy. 00:32:00
JOHNSON: And, uh, when he had time he took on patients from out in--in thecommunity, and, uh, when he found that, uh, to say when he had time, uh, there were so much suffering, uh, that he just, uh, worked himself down. He just would go day and night on and off the campus wherever, when--whenever he could get to the next patient.
HALL: Must have been a lot of charity work.
JOHNSON: Oh no.
HALL: 'Cause those--the people off the campus couldn't have paid.
JOHNSON: That's right. That's right.
HALL: What was his name?
JOHNSON: Uh, Campbell.
HALL: Dr. Campbell?
JOHNSON: Yeah, Thomas Campbell.
HALL: Um-hm. Thomas Campbell.
HALL: Now which--which, uh, niece--which--which, um, was it a brother or sister--
HALL: --whose daughter it was?00:33:00
JOHNSON: My brother's, uh--one of my brother's. I had four brothers. One of mybrother's, uh, children. He didn't have but one child. That one didn't have but one child. He, uh, was in New York. He was--he himself was a spunky guy. He said, "Hell, I'm not gonna work out here in n--" the old man, my daddy, wanted him to plow the field. He said, "No, no, I don't have the--" He said, "I don't have much brain, but I'm not gonna burn my little brain out on that damn farm. No." And he took a job in town as a chauffeur.
HALL: That was in Columbia?
JOHNSON: Yeah, in Columbia. He finished high school, took a job as a chauffeur,and it just broke my father's heart. He said, "I didn't--I didn't want for one of my sons to be a--a lackey around any rich people's place, any, uh, rich white people's house." And that's all he wanted. So, uh, he--his job as a chauffeur 00:34:00got him a, uh, place to stay, uh, accommodations on the--on the estate where he chauffeured. Well, that, uh--that was convenient to the--to the estate people because he's always subject to call.
JOHNSON: And, uh, well, that broke my daddy's heart. So, he said, "Son, I--youmight just as well to be in slavery to be--well, they don't pay you much of anything for this because they take it out. They said you eat it up, and you--and--and your sleeping accommodation and uniform. They give you so much on the side that they don't give you any pay. Now what is--what--what is your prospect?" And so finally my daddy talked him into going back to school, and, uh, he went off to college, and, and, uh, when he finished college he went on 00:35:00to, uh, New York and married up there, had his child.
HALL: Which college did he go to?
JOHNSON: Same one, Virginia Union.
JOHNSON: Richmond, Virginia.
HALL: And--and he went to New York and had--now, this is not the, uh--the, the,uh--the one who--whose daughter--
JOHNSON: --yeah, I got the--I--I--I got another brother up there who had nine children.
HALL: Oh, now this one only had one?
JOHNSON: Yeah, this one--and this one settled in Tuskegee.
HALL: Right, okay.
JOHNSON: And these others--these others, they--they wanted--they'll come downhere to visit Uncle Lyman, and they say, "Let me get the--" they--they all--all of them have heard, uh, their fathers tell about what the South is like.
HALL: But don't you think that's changing, Lyman?
JOHNSON: Oh, it's--it--it--it's a new day, new day.
JOHNSON: --for instance, Tuskegee is a--is a nice place to live.
HALL: Yeah, yeah.
JOHNSON: Now, even for a civil rights guy like me--
HALL: --yeah, yeah--
JOHNSON: --Tuskegee would be a--would be a nice place.00:36:00
JOHNSON: --my hometown is better off than--than--than Louisville is.
JOHNSON: Uh, r--race wise.
JOHNSON: My hometown, Columbia, Tennessee--
JOHNSON: --is better off. It--it is better--it has a--a--a--a face up to thesituation and is--is better, uh, adjusted to the new way of doing things than Louisville, Kentucky. And, uh--and, uh--
HALL: --why do you think that is?
JOHNSON: Well, that series of--of laws that came on under the leadership ofLyndon Johnson. When he was leaving the sen--his last days in the senate and during the time he was in the White House, Lyndon Johnson gave leadership to the 00:37:00passage of certain civil rights acts, sixty-four, sixty-five, right through there, that revolutionized the South. And when you can get a fellow like, uh, George Wallace who stood in the door to keep the ----------(??) from coming in the front door, when you can see him toward the end of his career going around kissing little black babies, eh, you can see what a transformation has taken place. It's--it's a--it's a pla--it's, it's a situation, as I see it, where the white man of the South, white people of the South, to get the women too, the white people of the South have found out that the best way to extricate 00:38:00themselves is to get off the back, get off the neck of--of--of--of the black man. And when they find out that the black man only wants what any human being would want, and then together both can go higher than either one could have gone as long as they fought each other. And I think that just shows good common sense. And I think the white people of the South are--are--are glad to be emancipated from some of their own traditions.
JOHNSON: And that's--that has to do with--
JOHNSON: --they both of them can rise to higher heights than either one could have.
HALL: You think there's a reservoir of good feeling in the South between the00:39:00races? Now I know it's based on not an equality, but--but you can have good feeling in a situation of inequality because after all that's the--that's the way ----------(??) parents and children.
JOHNSON: --yeah, no-no--I know. You don't need to explain that. I know it. Uh--
HALL: --but--but, you think that's one reason?
JOHNSON: Down in--down in South Carolina--down in South Car--this would--thiswould be true anywhere, but down in South Carolina, uh, he--he--the situation was--was, uh, obvious, conspicuous. It was, uh, pronounced that, uh, between the upper class and a particular black or black family there was almost the affinity as if they were blood relatives. As long as the black man recognized he was--he was--sub, sub, subordinate, as long as the white man insisted that he was--he was, in, uh--superior, as long as you don't bother that relationship, then 00:40:00they'd die for each other.
JOHNSON: Now, uh, we've gotten the--the thing that's sort of wholesome in thesouth is you don't lose that affinity.
JOHNSON: But you--but you kind of--
JOHNSON: --scrap the concept--
JOHNSON: --of who's superior and who's inferior.
JOHNSON: A--a good illustration--a good illustration, uh, I went through the--mydays at University of Michigan, two and a half years up there in the graduate school, and I caught hell from the point of view of not having any money. But there was one young fella who before I got there graduated from college from South Carolina, and he decided he wanted to go into medical school. And his grades were very good, and he was admitted to the medical school at the 00:41:00University of Michigan. Now, he came from a very humble, uh, family. His father was a, m, barber. Uh, he--in--in his day, of course, ran a barber shop for whites. I mean, he--he--he couldn't take--he couldn't have negroes coming in his, uh, barber shop. But he was a barber, and generally speaking a barber with, uh, several children in the family wouldn't likely make enough money to send a kid through college at the University of Michigan.
JOHNSON: And then--then started him out in the medical school. Well, what--whatwas the--what was the--the background? Well, there was a senator, United States 00:42:00senator, from South Carolina, and this boy kowtowed to this senator. And he used to tell me how he used to talk to him. He used to say, "Senator, you know, my people always fussing about you white folk, but they don't understand you. You see, I understand you folks. You--you--you--you--you have the best interest of all of us at heart, and you're doing the very best you can, and you think the best th--the best way to do is to have the white people have this and this and this, and then after you see that they are well taken care of it's your idea that they should not let their servants go--l--lack for anything." And then the senator would say, "You know, Charlie, what can I do to get the rest of the 00:43:00blacks to understand--rest of the negroes to understand, and, and--and quit criticizing me?" "Well, I don't know, Mr.--Mr. Senator, or whatever his name was, Mr. Williams. I don't--"
HALL: --where was he from?
JOHNSON: Char--Charleston, South Carolina.
HALL: Cha--the--the--the senator was from Charleston?
JOHNSON: Both of them.
JOHNSON: He said, "I don't know Mr.--Mr. Williams. It just looks like my--my--mypeople are just--don't know how to--how to put the best foot forward. They just--they just criticize their best friends." "Charlie, I tell you, uh, uh, I--I think you--you--you would do well. What you need is the best education you can get so you can come back and teach these people that we white people don't mean any harm to them." "You're right, Mr. Williams. You're right, Mr. Williams." Tuition paid, University of Michigan, tuition paid, and every summer 00:44:00he would go back and butter up this man, tuition paid. The guy graduated from, uh--from medical school after I left, and, uh, he settled in California. He says, "Hell, I wanted to get through college. I wanted to get through medical school." And--and--and--and, "I never--I never worried about whether my bills would be paid. I always go back to the senator and told him that, uh--where I stood and how much I was trying my best to convince the rest of the black people, uh, th--that--that, uh, white people don't mean us any harm. They've been doing this for our welfare." And--and it paid off, to him.
HALL: Was a survival game, wasn't it?
JOHNSON: Um-hm. I--I couldn't--I don't, I don't see how in the world I could'vedone that, but, uh, with--with the training I've had, uh, daddy and whatnot, but uh he worked him right down the line(??).
HALL: But he had no intention of doing what the senator expected him to do, did he?00:45:00
JOHNSON: Oh no, no.
HALL: But he just--
JOHNSON: --no, no, no he told us--
HALL: --he just, uh, played along with it.
JOHNSON: He said, he said you wait till I get my medical degree. He says hell,he can't take it away from him.
JOHNSON: He said, uh, he can't take your money back because he gave it to me. Ididn't sign any papers saying that, uh, I didn't sign, I didn't--I didn't agree to--to do anything. I just accepted what he paid--what he gave me. And, uh--and--and I got, uh, one of the--one of the best, uh, college educations in the country. I got, uh--I'm in the process of, uh, getting my medical degree from a highly respected university. He said, "You can't take that away from me."
HALL: Um-hm. Uh, you know, one interpretation of the Uncle Remus stories is thatBr'er rabbit--
HALL: --stands for the, uh, the black man and woman who lived in a society of00:46:00stronger animals, Brer fox and Brer wolf and so on, and he had to survive by his, uh, cunning.
JOHNSON: And--and is--
HALL: --and the tar baby--the tar baby's story--
JOHNSON: --yeah, well, that's a--uh, it's, um--
HALL: --is that--doesn't--
JOHNSON: --that's an--if there's an interpretation that goes along with that,that there--maybe--maybe the, the smarter guy was not the white man.
HALL: That's what I mean. 'Cause you remember the tar--tar baby story--
JOHNSON: --and--and I've said any number of times that, uh, when I'm talking toa bunch of, uh, young blacks today I say, well my God, if a bunch of slaves in chains could--could figure out a--a--a technique of survival why in the hell don't you, in freedom, at least learn how to survive, if not, uh, go beyond just 00:47:00mere survival.
HALL: Now that you've got, uh, almost everything on your side.
JOHNSON: Yeah, and why--why--why wait now to get further down, push back into,uh, the chains of economic, uh, deprivation before you wake up and begin to extricate yourself? Start from where you are, and I like to use my--my--my family as a good--good illustration. Grandfather was a slave, brought himself out, didn't go ver--didn't go far, didn't go far, but--but the inspiration, my daddy came from grinding poverty. He graduated from college, and he says, "Son, if--if I had to live on beans and sweet potatoes and then graduate from college 00:48:00and then have a family and somehow keep a roof over the head of nine children, my God, don't go all the way back down to slavery and come up again. Start from here." And, huh, I have passed that along to my children. I say, now, I--I didn't have it as bad as my father, but I had much more--much rougher than you. Now don't--don't go all the way back down to the foot of the hill.
HALL: Shouldn't that be a source of a great deal of pride? Now, I know that someblacks are trying to find pride in their African ancestry. We've talked about that. But shouldn't it--shouldn't it be a source of great pride to the--to the black person today that he has been able, as you said, not only to survive under slavery but to make the prog--incredible progress that he has made in this country under intolerable circumstances over a relatively few years? I--I mean, 00:49:00it's not, it's not enough, but it's still-it--it--uh--it--it's--it's still an incredible amount of progress he's made.
JOHNSON: I, uh, uh, it, uh--I say it's, uh--I'm just glad to see it, uh, inoperation, in operation. I talk about my--my, uh, brother's child, my niece down in Tuskegee. And she's got three children. Um, my other brother over in New York had nine children, and some of them are cutting a pretty nice little way through the present morass. And, uh, my--my two kids are--they're--they're at least taking care of themselves. And my daughter has a--one son, and she's feeding him 00:50:00the same--(laughs)--same prescription. And, uh, my, uh--all that bunch of nine that my brother has, nearly all of them are feeding the same stock. I got a brother down in Tennessee who has two daughters who are registered nurses. Incidentally, in my home town one of my nephews down there is on the police force. When I was a kid, uh, the most despised person in town--in, uh, to the black community was, uh, policeman or the sheriff. They just--they would go down to a ----------(??), go down in a negro neighborhood when I was a kid, go down 00:51:00in the negro neighborhood to arrest a person. The first thing they did was to beat him up, beat up the man, and then put him--put handcuffs on him, or perhaps put the handcuffs on him, beat him up, and then take him in. And there wasn't such thing as, uh, what we consider now a--a matter of arresting a person and taking him on in. The first had to whip him. They said no matter how willingly he would surrender the--the policeman just got a kick out of beating up a negro, just beat his head like hell. Now, ki--in that same system, I--I--I--I tell you that they've adjusted so well. Here are my--my nephew's a--is a ranking fella on the police department down there in--in Columbia, and he goes around--when he 00:52:00goes around to arrest people, eh, they don't beat up people now. They just--uh, you under arrest. Now, if you resist then you might get the hell beat out of you. But if you surrender, walk the man on in jail, uh, in--into the, uh, place there, and, uh, book him and all that. And he--he arrests white people or black people, uh, just think about it. The first police that they had, first black police that they had in this town, Louisville--I don't know whether I told you the other day or not.
JOHNSON: The, uh--the man who finally got up to be a--as high as major, majorWilliam Hughes in this town, I remember when he started, uh, as a--as a patrolman back in the thirties, maybe back about '35 or '37--
JOHNSON: --closer to '37, I guess. He was given a job directing traffic around00:53:00the junior high school Meyzeek. It was--it was at Jackson Junior High in those days. Meyzeek, uh, Junior High School at, uh--in the mornings at--at the opening of school and 3:00 at the closing of school. He would be out here directing traffic at the--it was very busy intersection there at that corner, at that school, but he was definitely instructed not to arrest white people. And a white fella came down just--just speeding through. Not--not speeding, but going an excessive rate for a school district. And he had already held up his hand for the children to pass in the other direction and for this car to stop. And this car looked over, th--the man looked over at the--at--at the police and said, 00:54:00"Nigger, get out of my way. I haven't got time for ya. I haven't got time to stop here." And he said, "No, in the name of the law you do stop." He said, "Who--nigger, you got a lot of nerve. Get out of the way. I'll run over you." And the man pulled up. This was a--"if you do you'd be dead. So you don't need--you're not gonna run over me. Now you stand back there or else I'll shoot the hell out of you." Well, the fella kind of backed--backed down over the pistol, you know, but just as soon as the thing was over he ran right straight to the chief of police and to the mayor and said, "What the hell nigger is this, uh, trying to tell me what to do, and I'm a white man?" And Mr. Hughes had to come in and apologize. He had violated regulations. He was not supposed to, uh, talk like that to a--to a--to a white person. He could have all authority 00:55:00necessary to arrest, handcuff, manhandle a negro, not a white person.
HALL: That, that--and so--
JOHNSON: --and so he came very near losing his job. I was one on the committeethat went down and said now this is ridiculous. Here's a man driving at an excessive rate through a school zone, and the children were actually all in the street on the way across, and the policeman was trying to protect the lives of these children, and--we just--we just put so much pressure on the chief of police and the mayor that they did not, uh--did not, uh, demote and did not, uh, uh, fire this negro. But they always kept it in his jacket that, uh, he had violated regulations.
HALL: Isn't the key word authority? Uh, it took--it took and is taking and willtaking some whites a lot of time to get used to the idea that a black person 00:56:00should have authority--
HALL: --over him.
JOHNSON: I got a case right now where in the--in the school system where one ofthese black teachers, uh, got after a kid for not being in class, and--and--and the kid practically told him and said, "Well, who are you to tell me what to do?" Now two white kids brought the kid in because he was down the hall disturbing their classes.
JOHNSON: Two white teachers brought him up there and shoved him in to thisteacher's room. And--and--and the teacher, uh, wrote him up for being out of his class and sent a note to the office, and the kid went down there, and he went down there protesting that this, uh, this man telling me what to do. And he has no way of knowing. He hasn't got any sense. He's crazy. And, uh, on the--on the 00:57:00note, uh, he--he makes the statement that two other teachers found him disturbing their classroom and found out where he belonged and brought him up to his room. And--and--and the boy has gone home now and told his parents that this nigger teacher is--is picking on me, and the principal has called the teacher in, uh, because the white parents, mother and father, are putting pressure on the white principal to do something about this damn nigger teacher.
JOHNSON: Now the--that--that has come to me, uh, just, uh--just this morning.
JOHNSON: And I don't--I don't know how to think like that. I don't know.
HALL: Are there--are there people--and I--I'm not--I don't mean to be jumpingtoo far ahead because I want to cover this in more detail later, but are there people who resent the fact that you're on the school board?
JOHNSON: Well, the very fact that, uh, uh, well, I--I think they resent not a00:58:00negro being on the board but they resent one who, uh, is, uh--is as, um, courageous as I am, and, uh--and speak out so boldly on certain things that, uh--that they'd rather me keep quiet on. Just the fact that they've, uh, threatened, uh, to bump me off now at two--two board meetings. The one they accosted me out in the halls out at Thomas Jefferson High School. And they told what all would happen to me on my way home. I said, "Hell, if you as c--courageous as--as--as you, uh, want to claim to be, you white people claim that you're the bravest, boldest people in the world, you all that bold, why don't you do it right here in the open. Now let me see your hands. You do 00:59:00whatever you're gonna do to me right here in front of this 125 people to see that thing ----------(??). And you do it now. Let--let me see. And I--I called their bluff. And then they, uh, sort of threatened me, and they had me come down to this, uh, board meeting we had about a month ago down in Parkland Middle School. And, uh, they called me on the phone and told me, "Nigger, why don't you resign from that board of education while you're still alive. If you don't come--if you come down to that board meeting tonight you either resign or the undertaker will take you away. Now you understand me don't you, nigger?" I said, "Look, uh, man, uh, I will be there. I want to see the show. Now you--you--you come. Let me see--let me see how--let me see what--what you got to offer. I'll be there. I'll be looking out." Well, they don't scare me, but, uh-- 01:00:00
JOHNSON: --- ----------(??).
HALL: Did the person, uh, identify themselves on the phone?
HALL: Do you know who they are?
JOHNSON: No, they didn't--they didn't identify themselves, uh, at the Parkland(??) situation, but there were five of them. The--I know--I know the five of them.
HALL: You know who they are?
JOHNSON: I know five people out there at, uh, Thomas Jefferson. I know two ofthem, uh, by name, and I could, uh, identify the other three if I had to.
JOHNSON: --but, uh--but, uh, I've been--I've been threatened so much since 1945that, uh, I've learned to live with it, and hell, I-I'm getting older. I wish--wish I--I could just use some of it a therapy for my arthritis.
HALL: Uh, what was the population of, uh, Maury County, Tennessee,approximately? Uh, do you know approximately the--the percentage of blacks and whites, the proportion?
JOHNSON: I guess there's about, uh, one-fourth or maybe, uh-- maybe a little01:01:00bigger, not quite, not quite up there.
HALL: Of blacks to the whites? See, that--that was a--uh, in my home county wehad about four blacks when I was growing up--
HALL: compared to the white (??).
JOHNSON: You see--you see the, um--in the plantation area I think I, uh, spokeabout this one before. The plantation area drove away the poor whites because poor white as free men could not compete with the blacks as slaves. A slave existence is so meager. Uh, now, if you drive out the poor whites, then the rich 01:02:00whites, just by general inspection, you--you--you see the rich, meaning the few, the few rich, the many slaves. When the Civil War came to a close, freedom came, slavery came to an end. Freedom started. There were pockets where there were many poor whites, few slaves, few ex-slaves. There were the best farming lands where there were few, uh, plantation owners, many servants, all of them black.
JOHNSON: And that, uh, accounts for much of Mississippi and, uh, Alabama.
HALL: Well, what kind of farming area was Maury County?01:03:00
JOHNSON: Um, oh, I would say, uh, they produce corn and hay and that sort ofthing. Not too much tobacco or cotton.
HALL: Were there large plantations? Had there been before the Civil War and--andwere there after the Civil War?
JOHNSON: Yeah, yeah, yeah, and they, uh--
HALL: --but you didn't have as many--as heavy a concentration of slaves there,did you?
HALL: As say in, uh--
HALL: --the plantation regions of Tennessee.
JOHNSON: No. Um, in--just before I got to be a, uh, young man, uh, stock raisingwas quite important in--in, uh, my section. Mules and walking horses and cattle.
HALL: Tennessee walking horse?01:04:00
JOHNSON: Yes, yes, yes. Uh, in particular, the--my, uh--my teens and in mytwenties, uh, mule raising was a great, uh--great industry, if I can it as such. It was a great occupation for the people.
HALL: You call--you called Columbia mule town.
HALL: What do you mean by that?
JOHNSON: The greatest mule market in the world was Maury County, Columbia,Tennessee. People from all--all over Mississippi and Alabama in real, uh, cotton producing plantation area, they came to Murray County the first of the year to buy mules to carry back to those plantations to plow. And on mule day I don't 01:05:00remember this was the first, uh, I think it must have been the first Monday in--I don't remember, March or April. It was called mule day, and you couldn't get within a block and a half of that courthouse in four directions for mules all over the streets, sidewalks, everywhere. They were from building to building or from one side of the street to the other. They, uh--they had mules and mules and mules, and I know for four or five weeks after mule day the stench of that town was just stifling. It was awful.
JOHNSON: You--you--you just couldn't clean the town, in, uh--in any length oftime. That shows how--how big a thing it was. 01:06:00
JOHNSON: Everybody put up with it. It's just like in--in--in some of thesepolluted areas they say, well, if you--if you want a job here that's part of--you got to put up with the pollution. Well, in those days if you--if you, uh--if you, um, uh, wanted to--wanted to be in Columbia you had to put up with the stench that went along with mule day because that was the biggest market--biggest, uh, revenue producing, uh, occupation in the county, mule day. Now all those little farms around, uh, uh, uh, Maury--uh, in Maury County, um, was in the business of breeding and producing mules--
JOHNSON: --for this market.
HALL: I was gonna ask you if--if they were brought in from other places or mostly--
JOHNSON: --no, no they were--
HALL: --mostly home -----------(??)--
JOHNSON: --a three--a three-year-old mule that's ready to go to work, beentrained and is ready now to go to work on the farm and plow all the days long. 01:07:00Happy, healthy, uh, well-trained, well-groomed, uh, mule. And they sell for a handsome price.
HALL: How--how much would they sell them for? ----------(??)
JOHNSON: I don't--I don't remember now.
HALL: But they were expensive, weren't they?
JOHNSON: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
HALL: Back in the--I remember when I was a child, a--a--a mule--because theywere indispensable. You had to have a mule--
JOHNSON: --that's--that's why--
HALL: --if you were a farmer.
JOHNSON: --you--if you had a big plantation, you wanted a mule anda--and--and--and--and--and couldn't call them a slave, but you wanted, uh, one of these blacks to--who couldn't--he couldn't get a job anywhere else, and so they pay him a dollar a day, a good mule, a good nigger for a dollar a day and let them plow from 7:00 in the morning till 6:00 in the evening. Give him one hour off for lunch. Feed the mule, feed yourself, get back to work by 1:00. And 01:08:00you get a dollar. And Mr. Eastland grew fat and rich off--off of that kind of business, that kind of operation, Eastman.
HALL: You mean his cotton plantation?
JOHNSON: Yes, Senator Eastman.
JOHNSON: Senator Stennis, all the rest of those rascals. They--they--theythrived on--on--on--on profits they made off of mule and the--and--and the negro service. Um, well there--there were a few--
HALL: --what would you do--
JOHNSON: --whites, but--but, uh, the--the slaves I--the name slave had beenwiped out, but the concept of, uh, the labor was the same.
JOHNSON: The only difference was they give you a dollar a day. Now you feed and01:09:00clothe yourself.
JOHNSON: As a slave, we'll give you a hut and a morsel of food and no dollar.And I don't know which is more grinding. I don't know. I--I--I've tried my best to--to speculate on which is the worst, to be a slave and make your master have to feed and clothe you or else you--you spend a thousand dollars and maybe fifteen hundred dollars to pick up the slave, and now you let him starve and get insipid, and then that's a thousand dollar--in other words you got a thousand dollars invested in the slave, so you better take care of him somehow. But for that man, that--that--that, uh, day laborer, wage laborer, he has no come back. 01:10:00I gave you a dollar, and what'd you do with it? Well, I'm hungry, and a dollar didn't go around. Well, that isn't my fault. Scram, get off my place. And, uh, then the black man began then to find out what the poor whites had been suffering even before--during the days of slavery.
JOHNSON: The poor whites caught hell. I just--I just have to--
HALL: --isn't that one of our national tragedies that--that at that time--
HALL: --for the--when the black freed man was subjected to the same kind of lifethat the poor white man was subjected to since the beginning of this country and even in Europe before that, that they didn't realize that they had common cause.
JOHNSON: Oh, they--01:11:00
JOHNSON: --the trouble is that the--the only--the only-- the only pity about itis that the white man, I mean, no offense, but the one thing that he considered most precious to him was his biggest liability. He was white.
HALL: But who's responsible for that? Who--who was responsible--
JOHNSON: --he was white--
HALL: --who is responsible--
JOHNSON: --he was white--
HALL: --for telling him that you'd got it made because you're white and you'rebetter than any--
JOHNSON: --that's--that's the system. That's the system.
HALL: But who--
JOHNSON: --you've hear me say time and time again that I think that thecapitalist system is rotten to the core. I had no sympathy with the--the present use of the capitalist profit motive method of operation. It is anything except 01:12:00Christian. It is antisocial. That is a problem. As long as you're white, and that's the reason why many, many black people don't have, uh, eh--we can't get them to--to lend a hand, help white people. They say, no, no, he's got a means of escape that I don't have. No matter how much money I get, how much--uh, how much education, how much money, when I show up at the front door they see my black face. And they said, "Nigger, get out." But if a white man, somehow, gets his hands on a little money and/or a little education and/or enough refinement 01:13:00to put a collar and tie on, brush down his hair, shave, shine his shoes, clean his fingernails, and present himself at the main library, nobody will say get out of because he's got the one thing that'll get him in. That's a white face.
HALL: So you're saying it's still a white man's country.
JOHNSON: And the people down at the bottom, the--the whites themselves alwaysknow all of us can't win. But with this white face I might succeed, and if I ever get on top they'll never crush me down again. Uh, uh, Abraham Lincoln, uh, 01:14:00Jefferson Davis, President Andrew Johnson, all of them came from the poor whites. Huh, but when they began to--to ease up the line and behave themselves and act like civilized people nobody could say yea, but he--he--he--he--he's a nigger. No, see, they--they referred to me the other day, uh, uh--somebody referred to me as, "Damn he's a spunky nigger isn't he?" I'm still a nigger.
HALL: Here--here in Louisville?
JOHNSON: Yeah, yeah, I'm on the board of education, yeah. Here I am a member ofthe board of education, a graduate of University of Michigan, of, of forty years 01:15:00a teacher and--and, uh, all--all these little things around here and--and everything, but--but he's a nigger. I--I still have--
HALL: -- ----------(??)--
JOHNSON: --I still haven't made the grade. I still have to make the grade. Now Igot a--a cousin in Chicago who doesn't have any--any, uh--any of these, uh, things of, uh--of, uh--and plaques of appreciation. Who hasn't been, uh--been to college, who doesn't have, uh--I guess, I guess he's got as much money as I have because I don't have any. I know he's got as much money as I have, but--but he gone all big(??) so far as going where he wants to go because he's passing for white.
JOHNSON: That's the difference. And he's just white. It bugs the hell out of me.Yeah, and I've--I've worked harder. I've accomplished more. I've--I've--I--but still I'm a nigger.
HALL: Well now, you think there--there's any part of this country where, uh,01:16:00a--a black person could be treated as would be--
JOHNSON: --oh, as individuals, yes, so--some of them gone over big. Well, firstone's until, uh--Brook in Massachusetts, until Brook got in trouble with his wife and--and--and left a--a lot of family troubles, uh, cut into pieces. I notice in the--in the, uh, the paper the other day that, uh, the senate had, uh, just about, uh, gotten around the places that, uh, his troubles were domestic and, uh, so far as the senate was concerned they were minimal, and it was a pity. One of the, uh--one of his fellow senators said, uh, "It's regrettable that, uh, it was blown up so that, uh, it hurt him politically, and now he's out of office." But he--he was going over pretty big up there in Massachusetts.
HALL: But he would still have people, and there are people in Massachusetts, weboth know, in Boston, especially south Boston, that would say the same thing about him and that do and did say the same thing about him that was said about you. 01:17:00
JOHNSON: Yeah, I know. I know.
HALL: So I'm saying is that it's hard to--
JOHNSON: --I'm saying--I'm saying he did--
HALL: --erase this thing--
JOHNSON: --he--he did get to be a very powerful person.
HALL: Well Lyman, you are too.
HALL: --you really--you really--JOHNSON: --he got--he got to be--I don't knowabout that.
HALL: Yes, you are. And--and--
JOHNSON: --he got to be--he got to be the, I think, attorney general for astate. That's a pretty high office for a negro.
HALL: Yeah, but that--but the point I was making is--
JOHNSON: --in the state--
HALL: --he's still--there's still people who would say--I mean, no--nobody'sgoing to say, "Oh, he's just a white man." You see, uh, there's still people in every corner of this country who would say the same thing about any black person.
HALL: Uh, I, I, in, in Louisville there--there are--there are thousands ofwell-meaning whites, uh, who--who--who--
JOHNSON: --but the question was--
HALL: treat as a human being (??)
JOHNSON: --did I suppose there was any place where anybody might get alongwithout the bad (??) being against them that they are negro, and I said very few 01:18:00cases, and I will just, uh, give that as--as one place where he almost thought he had it made, but I'm not--I'm, I'm still of the opinion that some made a bigger deal about it because, after all, he's still black.
HALL: Yeah, that's what I'm saying.
JOHNSON: Uh, Adam -----------(??), he rose high, and he got--got just a littletoo cocky, and some of us blacks, uh, uh--some of the blacks across the country kept telling him, "Adam, don't forget us. Don't forget us because when they close up--close in on you, they will--they will grind you to death." Adam ----------(??) claimed that, yes, I'm guilty of this and this and this, but so was he. So was he. Yes, but they are white. And he didn't do a damn thing to it. 01:19:00
HALL: Well Lyman, let's--let me go back a minute to--we were talking about theUncle Remus strategy, I guess. The, uh, a racist term, which would--which describes, I think, the technique of survival used, I guess, even by sociologists, it's one that I--I know it has been used, uh. I've read the illustrations of it, and I've seen the illustrations of it in real life, but the term is coon act. Does that--what significance does that have for you?
HALL: Putting on a coon act.
JOHNSON: I knew that, uh--I'm gonna get it mixed up now. Let's see. Coon--
JOHNSON: --wait a minute. Coon is where you're sneaking around grinning, uh,01:20:00acting as if you, um--you like what's going on. You just grin, heh, heh, heh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And, uh, --
HALL: --or yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. (laughs)
JOHNSON: Yeah. Yahsir. Yahsir.
JOHNSON: Yahsir. Um, putting on an act to cater to the--to the not only vanitybut to the, um, uh, yeah, well, uh, catering to the pride of, uh, some superior or would be or supposed superior. Uh, coon act, you, uh--making believe that you like it.
JOHNSON: And you polish it off with a--with a little smile as if to say, eh,and--and--and--and, uh, this is--this is the way it should be, and I like it 01:21:00like this.
HALL: See, now is that--that--that--
JOHNSON: --that's the--that's the coon act.
HALL: Uh-huh, and that's--that's--but its' really wearing a mask.
HALL: So we were talking about how this works.
JOHNSON: It's trying to--trying to flatter, trying to flatter the supposed, uh, superior--
JOHNSON: --into such a vaunted position that out of his sympathy for this poordevil down here, uh, that he extends favors to try.
HALL: I remember an illustration. I read it somewhere actually--
[pause in recording]
HALL: --driving through eastern Kentucky, and he picked up--I think he was fromOhio. He picked up a black man, educated black man. He was hitchhiking somewhere. And, uh, the white man who later wrote this up said that we had a 01:22:00very intelligent cultured conversation. He spoke standard English. He was speaking better English than I was. The white man said, we--we--we arrived at the outskirts of a struck down mining (??) town in eastern Kentucky. Police stopped us. And, uh, he said, uh--we--we're not allowing anybody in. Town is off limits to--to outsiders. You have to go--go back, turn around and go back. White man said immediately the black man turned on his coon act. And he sai--he just made up a story. He--and--it--and he told it in coon dialect. "Mr.--Mr. White Man, yes, sir, Mr. White Man, uh, uh, I got this old low down cousin, nigger cousin over here on"--somewhere in town, I don't know where it was, through the 01:23:00town. Anyway, it had nothing to do with--it had to get through--to go through the town to get to this--this fictitious cousin or whoever was dying and in which--I think he had been--he had been cut with a knife, you know, in a Saturday night brawl, supposedly. Anyway, he made up this elaborate story and told it in beautiful coon dialect. Well, the gullible policeman believed it, and he said, "Well, I guess we can let you through." See, and of course soon as they got through they--black man started talking the way he usually did, but he did it to get--to gain what he wanted. And it--and it worked.
JOHNSON: I was working--
HALL: --classic--classic example--
JOHNSON: --I didn't make as much money as I needed, as I thought I needed as aschool teacher back in the days when my kids were beginning to grow up and 01:24:00looked like they could eat so much and wear so much clothing, need so much money. And my wife and I were just trying our best to figure it out, and we stretch our little school teacher pay, so as to give them all the things we all thought that they needed. So--so I got a job, uh, I would wait tables, uh, at the Colonial--I think Colonial Gardens way out on Newburg Road--no--uh, Newcut Road out near Iroquois Park.
HALL: Oh, I've heard of it.
JOHNSON: I waited tables out there, several weekends. Finally I just--all thatmy daddy had taught me and all that I said he'd said to this older brother went out to work as a--as a chauffeur, I remember what my father said, "Son, I 01:25:00didn't--I didn't bring you into this world to be a slave." Now I remembered working at the place. I had a ta--had a party of six at one table and eight at another. And admittedly, I wasn't a professional waiter, but I had done quite a bit of waiting tables in my college days to get, uh, by. And--but these--these other waiters, all blacks, these other waiters who, uh, were not specialists or--or temporary fellas like themselves, there were several of us brought in on weekends. But these fellas who made a year-in year-out profession at waiting tables, they had what you call a coon act. They had, uh, uh, perfected it. 01:26:00
JOHNSON: Now, one fella said, um, at my table, "Waiter, I need a glass." I said,"Yes, sir." I didn't say ya-sir. I said, "Yes, sir." Well, that didn't--that didn't, uh--I--I was talking their language.
JOHNSON: No, no, you--you're supposed to be a nigger. But I was talking theirlanguage. I said, "Yes, sir." And I looked all around. There were no clean glasses up there. I went all the way down to the kitchen, got a nice pretty, clean, sparkling glass, like I'd want for somebody to get for me.
JOHNSON: Not a germ within ten miles of that glass. I brought it up there, andwhen I had gone all the way downstairs. Couldn't find any--any clean glasses anywhere around. When I got back up there, "Nigger, where in the hell did you go? I wanted a glass. I asked you for a glass. You--you--you come bring me a 01:27:00glass now. I don't need it now." I said, "Well, I--I--I had to go, uh, all the way to the kitchen to get you a--a clean glass." "Oh, hell, you don't know what you're doing, do you, nigger?" I--I--I didn't want to--I could have put on my coon act. (laughs) "You're right, you're right Mr.--Mr. Charlie." But, uh, I said, "Why, uh, I went to get you a--I went--" wanted to deliver the idea that I wanted him to have a clean glass.
JOHNSON: All right, uh, when the thing was over everybody was cleaning up,always cleaning up the tables, white people had gone out to dance on the floor and -----------(??) got those tables all cleaned up. I had a tip of $2.50 on the 01:28:00table. I got $2 for working and then all my tips. Two dollars plus two fifty. I wor--I had to be there at 5:30 there at--at Friday afternoon. I didn't get to cleaning up until 2:00 in the morning. All I got was $4.50. And, uh, one of these, uh, waiters who, um, incidentally his child came to my class at Central High School. And he knew me. He said, "Mr. Johnson." I said--he called me Mr. Johnson.
JOHNSON: He wouldn't call me Lyman.
JOHNSON: "Mr. Johnson?" I said, "Yeah?" We were--we--we were all kind of----------(??) down in the--in the waiter's, uh, dressing room. I'm--I'm changing and getting ready to come home. He said, "Mr. Johnson, how much--how 01:29:00much did you pick up tonight?" I said, "Two-fifty." He said, "Mr. Johnson, you ought to--you ought not to try and wait tables. You can't--you can't--you better stick to teaching." He said, "The man asked you to go get a glass, didn't he? Get him a glass, didn't he?" He said, "All the time you were gone to get that glass he was cussin' you out. He asked me for a glass. I said, 'Ya-sir. Yes, sir.'" He said, "What did I do? I just reached around there and got glass off of another table that had already been used, took a napkin and wiped it off--
JOHNSON: --put it down, and he gave me $5. Now you waited on him--" He said,"Now, I got my tips on my table, but I got $5 over your table. And you got $2.50." He said, "You--you--you can't--you can't afford it." 01:30:00
HALL: Well, when would that have been, approximately?
JOHNSON: Uh, I guess about, uh, '40--in the '40s, '43, '42, somewhere in there.
HALL: Have you ever--
JOHNSON: --he said, "Don't--don't you bother about him." And he said, "Now look,I'm gonna show you--I'm gonna show you something. I'm gonna show you how to get you some money if you want to." He said, "Now don't you stand too close. You just--you just be close enough t--t--to see me." So now we--he came out of this little dugout back in here. It's this dirty, dingy, dark--enough light for us to see, but it was dark back in there, dim, dim.
HALL: What was it a kind of a sitting room or waiting room for the--
JOHNSON: --oh no, the pl--w--uh, the, uh, uh dressing room for the waiters.01:31:00
HALL: Oh, huh.
JOHNSON: Now he came up here, and--and sat at the door on a stool, old brokendown crate. And here were the white people coming. They--the dance is over now, and here they come down the steps there and pass right by here, and here he is sitting there. "You white folks sure are mean. These are some of the cheapest old no-good white people I have ever seen. They--they--they ain't got no sense at all." And one fella said, "Nigger, who--what you talking about?" "Oh, Mr. Charlie the--now, you all right, but I tell you, you got some mighty cheap white folk around here. They wouldn't give--they got to work out here all day, got to work like a slave and then got the old lady back home waiting for him to bring some money back, and you ----------(??)restaurant won't give us anything. This 01:32:00minimum wage is just nothing, and uh--and you folk, tightwads got--got everything." And, "Oh, nigger, quit your belly--" "Mr. Charlie, I got no money. I got to go home, and I got no money." The man says, "Oh, quit your griping. I'll get you ----------(??) and handed him a ten dollar bill." Went on down there. He hadn't waited on him at all.
JOHNSON: "Quit your gripping, here, take this home and give it--now don'tyou--don't you go up there and drink this money up, and don't you gamble it all. You take it home and give it to your--give it--give it--give it to your woman." "Ya-sir, I--I sure--I--Mr. White Folk--now some of you got--some of you got good sense. I swear, the rest of you, ---------(??). But--but you all right, Mr. White Folk. You all right. Now I'm gonna take this--" "Listen, nigger, you be sure you give this to your--to--to the old lady." "I'm gonna give every penny of 01:33:00it to her, Mr. Charlie."
HALL: You think that was a fair exchange?
JOHNSON: Then he gave him another five dollar bill.
HALL: Oh my gosh.
JOHNSON: He said, "Now this is for you. Now, you say you're going to give theten?" "Yeah, I sure am. I sure am. I'm gonna give this $10 to my wife." "Now you give it to the old--old--old woman." "Yes, sir. Yes, sir." "And now this is for you." And I--I expect he took all $15 and went back to her and got into a crap game before he got home and maybe lost all of it. I don't know. But--but that's--that's your monkey shine. Sometimes we call it monkey shine, and sometimes we call it a coon--coon act and all that kind of stuff. I could never--I could never make a waiter.
JOHNSON: --I've worked myself to death. I would give you a nice clean glass. Ifyou wanted silver I would see that there wasn't one--I'd get a--a--a .40 caliber pistol and shoot every germ I saw on your--on your--on your--on your thing, but--but I'd never--I'd never get a tip. 01:34:00
HALL: You couldn't play the game, could you?
JOHNSON: I couldn't. I couldn't. I couldn't monkey shine for you.
HALL: Oh yeah.
JOHNSON: And part of the tip is not for the service but for--for how much of amonkey shine can you play?
HALL: Did--well, now, do you think that man was selling his honor, or was hejust doing--being a good actor? He--he thought he was being a good actor--I mean, I'm sure he--he was--
JOHNSON: --oh, he--he--he told me. He said. He said, "I'm gonna show you how toget--I'm gonna show you how to--how to get some money."
HALL: He--he--he played his role.
JOHNSON: He picked up $15 just sitting there on the stoop.
HALL: Right, um-hm. Would you condemn him for it?
JOHNSON: Uh, I just say it's a technique of survival, and that--that was histechnique, and--and he got by on it.
HALL: But it really didn't help the cause of his color, did it?01:35:00
JOHNSON: No, no, no, Rosa Parks did. He didn't. For me to get a decent pay as awaiter, he didn't help me because I wanted to be--I wanted to treat people like I want to be treated. I would not want somebody to give me a glass that somebody's been drinking out of that hasn't been washed and dried off with a clean napkin. He picked up a napkin that somebody else had--I--I--I--but what the--the napkin had already been worn and some--some of the white people have been sneezing on.
JOHNSON: And then he takes it out and wipes it out. Now how do you know but whatthe--all the germs that this white guy has--he--he's feeding them to you. I went down and got a sterilized thing. What did--I--I'd have steamed them, dried and cleaned and everything, and bloop-bloop-bloop-bloop-bloop. And then didn't get 01:36:00nothing. Oh, that's just the difference between uh, uh, uh, my brand of, uh, operations. I never--I'd never make a living, uh, kowtowing like that.
HALL: Do you if any of the, uh--or have you known any--any of the waiters at the----------(??) club?
JOHNSON: Oh, I expect, uh, I expect, uh, I know ---------(??). Uh, haven'ttalked to their children. Uh, uh, I expect they know me. I don't remember a--
HALL: --well, everybody knows you, Lyman, but, uh--
JOHNSON: --I don't know many of the--there are any particular--no.
HALL: I just wondered because--
JOHNSON: --there were several, uh, uh, at various clubs around town that I didknow. I knew a lot--I knew Mastin (??) Jones, uh, who used to be, a--a head waiter down at the Brown Hotel. I knew, uh, a man called Captain Dan, Captain 01:37:00Dan. Captain, uh, uh, Wiley B. Daniel. His son was the principal of the school, graduate of Fisk University, but Captain Dan I expect made more money than the principal made. And he sent his son to Fisk University, and, uh, he said, "Son, I don't want you to be a waiter. Don't want you to." But he made more money. He worked as a head waiter down at, uh, the Brown Hotel, of the J. Graham Brown. J. Graham Brown just sucked the life out of Captain Dan. Captain Dan. Everybody called him Captain. Captain Dan. And the--uh, chipped in liberally. But he would put on his coon act and, uh, rake in the money, and lived in a very comfortable home right around here on 22nd Street, 22nd near Magazine. Uh, that was before the--the--the section began to--to deteriorate. Uh, he lived on a very, very 01:38:00respectable home. His wife and children were brought up in excellent, uh, and--and comfortable, uh, culturally, uh--environment. But when he got back down to--to the hotel he never made any due about what he had at home. Very smart, very smart man.
HALL: So you're making a distinction between a person like Captain Dan whoreally has to do this in order to survive and in order to make it better for his children, and--
JOHNSON: --with the children, and all of them graduated from college--
HALL: --and--and--but you would not make the same excuses for his son who wentto college and finished in school, if he put on that kind of act, if he kowtowed 01:39:00to the whites, the--you're saying that that's--that's a different--
JOHNSON: It's a different situation.
HALL: Just as your niece, she had all the advantages.
JOHNSON: And if you had the advantages you ought to be--you ought to measure up,uh, to your responsibilities. Noblesse oblige.
HALL: Let--let's review, in the remaining few minutes, uh, your education.You--you started out in, I guess, the first grade--
JOHNSON: --Columbia, Tennessee.
HALL: And what kind of school did you go to as a--
JOHNSON: --went to a school that had everything from the first grade through theeleventh grade in--under one roof.
HALL: That was--
JOHNSON: --my daddy was the principal all the time I was there.
HALL: Your father was the principal for the whole school?
JOHNSON: --he was also my mathematics teacher. He taught me algebra andgeometry. He was a damn good teacher. I was a pretty good student. When I got 01:40:00off to college, he gave me a test. I ranked so high on mathematics that they just marveled at how I could come from a--an un ranked--unrecognized high school and have such a good grip--grasp of mathematics.
HALL: But now, it was a graded school wasn't it? Did--did you have separaterooms for grades or--
JOHNSON: --yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
HALL: You had, like, the first grade room, second grade room? Or wouldyou--were--were you together, something like that?
JOHNSON: No, no, no, separate. Ea, each--each grade up through the eighth grade,each grade had its teacher.
HALL: So you had it better than--better--better than I did because I went to aschool--we had two grades in the same room.
HALL: It was a country school.
JOHNSON: There were enough of us to make enough students for a teacher for each grade.01:41:00
HALL: Each grade, uh-huh. Uh, was this the only black school in Columbia?
JOHNSON: That's right, that's right.
HALL: What was it called?
JOHNSON: College Hill School.
HALL: Was it called colored school or just College Hill School?
JOHNSON: No, College Hill School. Yeah, uh, everybody knew it was colored.
HALL: Do you remember any of your teachers other than your father?
JOHNSON: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
HALL: Can you remember your first grade teacher?
JOHNSON: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I remember Queenie Moore. One of the nicestwomen--one of the nicest women I've ever met.
HALL: Queenie Moore.
JOHNSON: Queenie Moore. She was so compassionate. She tried to handle--she justhad too many to handle. I guess fifty in the first grade. There were about--I think there may have been two first grade teachers. Each one was about fifty-fifty-five students. But Queenie Moore was one of the nicest teachers. 01:42:00
HALL: She was your--your first grade teacher? Was she married?
JOHNSON: No, never married, and I guess she was about sixty when she wasteaching me. I don't ever remember her saying a--a--a harsh word to any one of us in ---------(??).
HALL: She must have had a devil of a time keeping a--a bunch of active youngsters--
JOHNSON: --well that's the reason why I'm a--I'm admiring her. When I see that Ihave been through in forty years in the--in the school business and what I've seen, uh, uh, in the last five or six years I don't know how long she would--she would survive if she were thrown back in the classroom now.
HALL: Th--there were no--there were no discipline problems that you recall?
JOHNSON: Oh, she handled them. She handled them. Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.All--we were not angels. We were bad, just about as bad as you get to be. 01:43:00
HALL: Did she--did she--
JOHNSON: --but she knew how to handle us.
HALL: Did she use the switch?
JOHNSON: Yeah, she'd, uh--she--"Come here, little child. Come here now, youdon't--you don't talk to me like that. No, now turn around, turn around." "Yes, Ms. Queenie. Yes, Ms. Queenie. Oh, Ms. Queenie, that hurts. That hurts." "Yes, I intend for it to hurt. Now dear, I'd, uh--now don't you--you--you won't--you promise not to do that anymore?" 'Yes, Mr. Queenie." We always called her Ms. Queenie. "Yes, Ms. Queenie." And we loved her. She could beat the hell out of us, and we'd still just love the hell out of her. Because we--we knew she was loving us.
HALL: Um-hm. Uh--
JOHNSON: --and she never scolded. She just--just talked, "Now, you don't dothat. Now come up here, and you get your little-- your little--I got to punish you now. That's wrong." And--and she did it in such a nice way we just had to--just had to like her even--even when we were saying we were--"Damn it, don't hit me anymore."
HALL: Well--well, now what kind of--would she use a switch or a belt or what?01:44:00
JOHNSON: Yeah, sometimes she use a ruler.
HALL: A ruler, oh, like this?
JOHNSON: Yeah, and--
HALL: --there weren't any peach trees growing nearby that she could--
JOHNSON: --no, no--
JOHNSON: --she might bring a little ----------(??) a little ----------(??) switch.
HALL: (laughs) Getting the peach--the peach tree was the favorite for ourteachers in the South.
JOHNSON: Well, it's not--
HALL: Switch your legs, you know. Uh, any other teachers you can remember?
JOHNSON: Oh yeah, yeah, I remember, uh, uh, Melinda Fryson (??), Sam, uh--SamHowell (??). Sam Howell was a nice fella, had him for fourth grade. Uh, Samson Brown, he was a mean fella. We didn't like him. He thought he was a good teacher, but he--he started to get a little older and found out he was, uh--he--he found his meanness. He scared me a lot.
JOHNSON: And uh--01:45:00
HALL: --he didn't teach?
JOHNSON: He didn't teach.
HALL: Not much.
JOHNSON: He didn't do any teaching. He--he--he--his educational background wastoo shallow, as I remember it, and, uh, he got down his, uh, bulldozer. Um, there's Ms. Willie Harlem who was very nice. Mrs., uh, uh, Norbella (??) Brown. She was a sweet, uh, teacher about my fifth or sixth grade. Willie Harlem ---------(??) eight grade. Now, the person who taught me more real grammar, when I got over to Knoxville and to Virginia Union I highly appreciated my grammar teacher. B. Gordon, Beatrice Gordon, now she--she insisted on ---------(??). I think that was what you called it.
JOHNSON: You--you--you--you--you get this. You get your tenses, and you get01:46:00your--your--your verbs, uh, straightened up. Now, you get your mood straightened out, and--and--and, uh, you get your--your agreement, um, your--your objectives and subjectivess the--uh, subjects and predicates, and boy she was a--she just good for eighth and ninth grade teacher in, uh, grammar. And when I got into my Greek and my German and my French, uh, as well as my upper class in college English, oh, I just appreciated how, uh, B. Gordon used to insist that it must agree in person and in number.
JOHNSON: In person and in number.
HALL: Did she--she taught then what we would call today standard English,01:47:00standard grammar.
HALL: Uh, there--as you know, there have been--
JOHNSON: --and I don't think she ever finished--she never finished college.
JOHNSON: But--but the best--she gave me the foundation. She gave me thefoundation of grammar.
HALL: What do you think about blacks who call it Black English.
JOHNSON: I don't think anything. I think it's--I think it's a cop out. I have nosympathy. When I get ready to get a job downtown at the First National Bank I got to go in there and use the language that the First National Bank president wants me to use. And he wants me to use the language that will--that will apply to the people come to their window. And he doesn't want me to come down there with 'dis and 'dat.
HALL: That's what ---------(??)--
JOHNSON: --that's what it would do. What is that?
HALL: That's what I tell my black students.
JOHNSON: Yeah, that's for the--that's for the birds.
JOHNSON: --I have no sympathy, and I tell all these--uh, I know about three--Iknow three people personally, I won't call there names,--with PhD degrees who 01:48:00try to justify black English. I say, oh, go to hell.
HALL: I agree. I agree. Well, you--
JOHNSON: I say don't--I say don't--don't bring me that stuff. I say when--when Iam preparing my little kids to go down to work at the--at--at the telephone office, when someone calls in I want this person to call--to--to answer back over the phone in polite, courteous, elegant English.
JOHNSON: And then I'll tell the little, um--little girls who, uh, may be calledupon to be babysitters. I give them two illustrations. One in particular, there's a woman up in Chicago who will not have certain blacks to be babysitters 01:49:00because their enunciation as well as grammar is so horrible that she says I'll give the girl $5 for having come over to be the babysitter and dismiss her because I don't want her teaching my children to talk like that. I give her, uh--I--I--I just can't have her teaching my children, and I use the same theory when my kids were coming up. I--I remember that there were, there were a couple of girls that, that, uh, I just told them. I said, uh, I, uh--I'm sorry, but I guess we don't--we won't need you. I think perhaps I was a little unfair I 01:50:00didn't tell them why because I didn't have time to go through a remedial process in ten minutes.
JOHNSON: So I said, no, I--uh, and then I paid them for coming, and, uh, I--Igave them, uh, almost what I would have given if they'd, uh, stayed, maybe three hours, uh, babysitting. But I don't want, uh, anybody teaching my children black English. I want them teach English.
HALL: Yeah, it seems to me that's--
JOHNSON: --if I would have lived in a--in a--in a place where there's not gonnabe anything but black bl--black, uh, lingo, then let's get the lingo.
HALL: Or so-called--I think it's just substandard. I don't even think you shouldcall it black English.
JOHNSON: Well, I call it lingo.
HALL: I think you should call it substandard, substandard lingo.
HALL: Uh, it seems to me that that is a--a an updated form of paternalism, you know.
HALL: A--and say, well, we don't expect you to speak any better, so you go aheadand speak the way you--uh, use your version of the language. That's--you could 01:51:00say the same thing to the poor white cracker--
JOHNSON: --that's right--
HALL: --in south Georgia. He speaks a substandard English. You won't let him have--
JOHNSON: --I know--
HALL: --his, uh--
JOHNSON: I can remember the people--I--I can remember some of them coming overour house. And they were--(with an accent)-- "Uh, Charlie, I don't see why in the hell -----------(??)." I mean, hell, that wasn't good English either.
HALL: Can't--well, you can't understand it, that's why.
HALL: Language is for communication, and if you get off the standard so muchthat you can't communicate--
HALL: --then it ceases to--
JOHNSON: --I have sympathy with it--
HALL: --be language.
JOHNSON: I have no sympathy for it.
HALL: I--I--I--I suspect--
JOHNSON: --if you're gonna live--if you're gonna live in this country, get thebest there is in here. Get the very best, get the very best.
HALL: What--what, uh, what kind of eating facilities did you have in, uh,College Hill School in, uh, Colombia?
JOHNSON: Well, had it in--had it in the01:52:00white school, had none in the black school, none.
HALL: So how did you--did you take your lunch?
JOHNSON: Bring--bring your little lunch and--or--or wait till you get home.
HALL: Well, school lasts from how--how-from when to when?
JOHNSON: From 8:00 until 2:30.
HALL: So most stu--children would have brought their lunch, I guess.
JOHNSON: Many of them brought their lunch, and many of them didn't have a lunchto bring.
HALL: You just do without?
JOHNSON: Yeah. I went through school many days, I guess I could have brought alunch, but I--I never thought about bringing lunch. I went all day, no lunch, and got back home half starving, eat up everything, cooked or raw, whatever's here. Let's have it. Picked right through all of it, ----------(??). Rush back home, see what, uh--usually my mother had a pot of beans on the stove when we got back home. And--
HALL: --but you couldn't go home at lunch time?
JOHNSON: No, no ----------(??) going home.
HALL: Didn't, didn't you have a lunch period?
JOHNSON: Yeah, we called it recess, went out and played, played it up. No, Idon't--I don't remember taking lunch with me.
HALL: You--you didn't have, uh--you mean--w--didn't some of the children take a lunch?01:53:00
JOHNSON: Some did, yeah. Yeah, some brought lunch--
HALL: --but you didn't have lunch--
JOHNSON: --a little brown bag, and it had a little sandwich in there, biscuitand butter and biscuit and peanut butter, maybe a cold cut or something, and, uh, those who had it ate it, and those who didn't have it, they didn't hang around and--and--and let their mouth water. They went out and played. I played baseball, um--
HALL: --but you could--I mean, but you could have had a lunch. You could. Imean, you--you--you--
JOHNSON: --yeah, I could have had--
HALL: --you could have afforded it.
JOHNSON: I--at my house we could have had it. We could have had something toeat, but we didn't.
HALL: So you never took a lunch to school?
HALL: So you went from 8:00 until--at least from 8:00 until--
JOHNSON: --it would be about 3:00 or 3:30 before we got home to get anything toeat, from 8:00 in the morning, got a good breakfast, got a good little lunch when we got back, and then, uh, a pretty heavy dinner about 6:00.
HALL: What--what kind of drinking water facilities did you have? See, I'm01:54:00thinking of my own childhood, and I know that you ----------(??).
JOHNSON: Well, uh, when I went to school they had a, uh, had regular cityhydrant, uh, water.
HALL: Oh, they did?
HALL: So you did have plumbing, indoor plumbing in the school?
JOHNSON: Well, uh, no, the--
HALL: --what about restrooms?
JOHNSON: No, no, they, uh--they, uh washrooms(??) were outdoors.
HALL: Oh. But could it--
JOHNSON: --I don't remember--I don't remember having any--uh, any--oh yes, therewere, uh, two or three rooms had--had a hydrant, had a bas--wash basin and, uh, uh, sink, you know, and a hydrant. I do remember two or three places. But generally speaking, uh, the children wanted a drink of water they have to go out and pump or put your foot on the paddle and, uh, the water would squirt up there in the--the fountain. We'd go out to the fountain to drink. 01:55:00
HALL: You--you don't--
JOHNSON: --the--one on the boys side and one on the girls side.
HALL: You don't remember any, uh, water fountains in the classrooms--
JOHNSON: --no, no, no--
HALL: --would have a tank above--
HALL: See, that's what we had when I first started school, a tank. What aboutheating? What kind of heating did you have?
HALL: You remember that at all? Wasn't central heating I'm sure.
JOHNSON: Uh, I think it was, um, up on, uh--had, uh, big iron, uh, radiators.
HALL: So you didn't have--you didn't have a--a heater in each room?
JOHNSON: Had these big iron, uh, radiators.
HALL: With hot water heat (??) I guess.
JOHNSON: Yeah, as a hot water.
HALL: Oh, that was--see, that was fancy. To me that would be very fancy.
HALL: 'Cause we--we, in our school, we had--
JOHNSON: --we didn't have--we didn't have any stoves, any individuals stoves inthe various rooms. No, really, because I remember now they were the--the big, 01:56:00uh, iron, uh, hot water ----------(??).
HALL: Wh--what about restroom facilities? Were they inside or outside?
JOHNSON:At first when I was in, say, up to, say fifth grade there were outdoor toilets without running water in them. And they were stinky. And because they were not properly cleaned out, and they were way back in the back end of the yard. Way back in the back end of the yard, one on one side, one on the other, boys and girls.
JOHNSON: But I--I think somewhere along about the fifth or sixth gradethey--health department made them clean up those things, close up those--clean 'em up and close 'em up, wipe 'em out, and, uh, put indoor toilets in. And so 01:57:00from about the sixth, seventh on up, uh, we had indoor toilets.
HALL: But you didn't have it--'cause it--before that you didn't have, uh, uh,uh, lavatories to wash your hands after you went to the bathroom. So you had no--no, no sanitation.
JOHNSON: Yeah, as long as--long as it was out in the yard there wasn't any. Youjust went down the yard--
HALL: --because we didn't have any either.
JOHNSON: Didn't have any, uh, wash your hands or anything, no, no, no. That wasalmost, uh--almost prohibited (??). They may have had one or two, as I said, wash basins in certain rooms, which, uh, might--the early stages of what you might call a health room.
JOHNSON: They put--it, it had no business being called a health room, but Iexpect, uh, in those days they, they would have called "this is our health room." So maybe they had, uh, uh, a washroom in there. 01:58:00
HALL: Did--did you have any little girlfriends, uh, when you were in school?
JOHNSON: Oh sure, lot--lot of them.
HALL: Can you remember--can--can--can you remember any of 'em?
JOHNSON: Yeah. -----------(??) nicest, nicest little thing, smart, and she wouldbe--came from a very poor family, broken home, but she was so sweet and so nice, and I liked her.
HALL: What ever happened to her?
JOHNSON: Well, she grew up, and, uh, took nursetraining, became a registered nurse, and she worked in Nashville. ----------(??) registered nurse.
HALL: So you have seen her since she--
JOHNSON: --I haven't seen her in thirty years.
HALL: Thirty years.
JOHNSON: But I understand that she's--I guess she's retired in Nashville. She'sstill there.
HALL: Did--did you--did you go on dates as a--as a young man in--still in home,at home--
JOHNSON: No, not--not, uh---
JOHNSON: --not, not to my ------------(??).
HALL: Could you walk through--01:59:00
JOHNSON: --now, I finished--I finished eleventh grade, which means, uh, I guessI was, uh, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old. When I was about that age one of the little embarrassing things to me was when they would have the little parties I never carried a girl. I never carried--didn't have the--what'd you call a date.
JOHNSON: Uh, never carried a girl to a party. I never carried her home from theparty. But one of the--one of the things, I went to one of the little house parties at night (??), and they had a little what they call a--you ever hear of a graphophone?
HALL: Sh--yeah, uh-huh.
JOHNSON: That was the music, uh, machine.
HALL: Graphophone or--or grafanola.
HALL: Grafanola, my grandmother's was a grafanola.
JOHNSON: Yeah, okay, and now they had one of these things, and they were all,02:00:00you know, doing the shimmy and everything else--
JOHNSON: --the Charleston, and just anything, fox trot. They were doingsomething in there that--of course I had--my daddy didn't--didn't have much, much idea for card playing, liquor drinking, nor dancing.
JOHNSON: But, uh, I was the last one to come along, and he was beginning-----------(??) just to do some of these things ------------(??) to be. Well, I told him I was going over to Roosevelt Barton's birthday party, and, uh, he knew -----------(??) dances and whatnot, card playing. I said, "Now, I don't play cards, and I don't know how to dance, but I want to--I just want to go to the party." He said, "Well, Roosevelt is one of the nicest boys I know, and, uh, I know the Barton family, and Mr. and Mrs. Barton are nice people, and, uh, I know 02:01:00nothing is going on in their house that, uh, wouldn't--wouldn't be, wouldn't be good. So you go ahead, son, and go out put on best little Sunday--Sunday clothes. And I got over there. Party was started about 8:00, uh, I got there. By 9:00 the party was jumping. The house, just one little front room, and, uh, ----------(??) boys and girls in there just jumping up and down and dancing and carrying on, having a good time listening to grafanola. And about 10:00 one of my friends said, "Lyman, Shag's out there on the front porch." I said, "He is?" 02:02:00Now Shag was my father.
JOHNSON: He used to let his hair grow all down on his face. He had--he had side burns.
JOHNSON: And his hair would be just all down here, and, uh--and twisted andwhatnot--and they--and they just fluff all out in the wind and blow it any kind of way, and, uh--and the kids called him Shag.
HALL: (laughs) Not to his face though?
JOHNSON: No, no, no, no, never. Don't you--don't you call him that. He was theprincipal of the school.
JOHNSON: Don't ever call him Shag right to his face. He'd--he'd tear you to pieces.
HALL: Yeah. (laughs)
JOHNSON: Uh, "Lyman, Shag is out there on the front porch." I said, "He is?What's he doing out there?" He said, uh, "He's out there on the front porch talking to Mr. Barton." Now he stayed out there until the party was over.
HALL: You didn't know he was there?
JOHNSON: I didn't know he was. And he and Mr. Barton just having a good time andchaperoning the party, and letting--uh, as long as we stayed in that front room 02:03:00they didn't--they--they never showed up. But not one of us left that front room. We didn't go to the backroom because Mrs. Barton was in the back. We didn't go out on that front porch in the dark because Mr. Barton was out there and--and Shag.
JOHNSON: Shag's out on the front porch, and when the party was over, we walkedhome together.
HALL: How old were you then?
JOHNSON: I don't know, sixteen or seventeen.
HALL: Sixteen, seventeen.
JOHNSON: No, I never had much freedom to go around and call on the girlsbecause, uh, the old man was rather careful. "Son, you must be very careful. Some of these--some of these girls are loose. And, uh, they would--some of them 02:04:00don't, uh--some of their people think that because we are educated and because we have a little more than they, they are jealous. And some of them would do anything they could to--to--to--to embarrass me like for their daughters to come up pregnant and, uh, insist that, uh, Mr. Johnson's son's got to marry the little thing. Now you got to watch, then son--some of them m--some of them, uh, might have diseases. You got to be very careful now. You're growing up, and I know the temptations are there, but--but you don't know whether they have diseases or not, and so you have to be careful. And then, um--then, son, you have to be very careful, uh. Some would just like to tear you--tear you up, and 02:05:00get you all involved in first fights, and I'd hate for you to come home all cut up because you were going out with the wrong girl and somebody didn't like it. Son, you have to be very careful." Well, he just--he--he'd talk like that, and, uh, talk, and talk, and talk, and so really I--I guess I was just intimidated into being good. (laughs) I can't say that I really intended to be as good as I was, but--but I tell you, back then one--one of the people that, uh--all the--after I'd gone off to college and--and graduated and come back, uh, any number of people used to, when I came back they said, "Lyman, you were such a nice little boy. I tried, tried to tell my children be like you. Be like--be like Lyman. Be like Lyman, and, uh, I've had, uh, uh--I was in the, in the Navy many years later, uh, out in California, and there's a young man who, uh, was, 02:06:00uh--after they decided to scrap segregation of the races, segregation in the Navy, I walked into a barber shop out in California and got a haircut. And, uh, when I left, uh, Great Lakes I'd go into a black barber shop, in, uh, on the camp--on the--at--at Great Lakes in the--in the Navy. There'd be a black, uh, barber, and all black, uh, people getting their hair cut at Great Lakes. But when they broke up segregation and started some sort of a thing that they call integration, when I got to California out at, uh, San--San Bruno right out of San Francisco, uh, I walked into the barber shop and to sure--to be--to ensure no race prejudice when you walked in you pulled down a number, and there were 02:07:00seven chairs. In there, there were two black barbers and, uh, five whites. And each one of these barbers was to take the next number coming.
JOHNSON: And that ensured that when you count--or when you came in a--a--a--awhite sailor couldn't pick a white barber or vice versa.
JOHNSON: Or be refused a white or black barber. You just--was the next--you werethe next number. You--you--you came in by the numbers.
JOHNSON: And I walked in there one day, and I reached up and got a number and,oh look, ---------(??). "Sailor, aren't you, uh--aren't you from Tennessee?" "Yeah." He said, uh, "Could you be from Columbia, Tennessee?" 02:08:00
JOHNSON: I said, "Yeah." He said, "I know you. Your name is Johnson. Your nameis Lyman Johnson." By that time everybody, all the sailors sitting around waiting for their number to be called, all the barbers, everybody just--every--the whole conversation stopped to listen to this--this--this white sailor describe me, and that was the first time I'd been in that barber shop.
JOHNSON: That's the first time I'd seen it.
HALL: Uh, was the sailor in a chair, or was he just waiting?
JOHNSON: He was a barber.
HALL: He was--oh, he was a barber.
JOHNSON: He was one of the barbers. He was one of the white barbers.
HALL: Oh, I see, yeah.
JOHNSON: And he was--he was a sailor too. See, all of us sailor.
HALL: Yeah, right.
JOHNSON: But his job in the--in the Navy was to cut hair.
JOHNSON: Okay, "Yeah, yeah, you--your name is Lyman Johnson." I said, "That'sright, Lyman Johnson." I said, "Now, who are you?" He says, "Oh, you wouldn't know me. You knew my parents. You remember Joe Troop? We used to cut hair in--" 02:09:00I said, "Yeah, I know Joe Troop. I used to carry papers to the--to--to-- to your house." He said, "You were about five--you were about six years or more older than, uh, I was. And when you would come by to leave the paper or come by to collect for the paper, when you'd be walking by our house on the way to Sunday school or going to town or going to church or going anywhere, my mother used to say, 'Joe,"--now his name is Joe too, Joe Troop. He said, "Joe, why don't you be like Lyman? You see, he's trying to make something of himself. He goes to school. He nev--he--he never cuts class. He never--never misses a day at school. Every time he comes down here to bring us the paper we ask him, uh, have you--have you, uh, been to school today, Lyman? 'Yeah, yeah.' Lyman, how many 02:10:00days you been out? 'None, none.' Lyman, you get--what are you making in--' 'Making As, Bs in class.' She said, "My mother used to ask all those questions in my presence, you see. I was about, uh, five or six years younger than you. I was coming home, and even after I got up in high school, you were going to college, and you were--they were still holding you up as an example." Now, all these other people in the barber shop listening to all this about--he said, um, he--he--he winked at one of the barbers down the way and said, "I--I want hi--I want his number." (both laugh) So they switched numbers, and I got a chance--in violation of the regulation, you know.
JOHNSON: Uh, he had me sit in his--w--he said, "You know, you couldn't--uh, myfather couldn't cut your hair. He--we thought a lot of you and thought you were the best, uh, best example for us to--to follow but, uh, I just want to--I just 02:11:00want to cut your hair because, uh, my father couldn't have done--he couldn't have cut your father's hair. And, uh, he says, all the people out in our section of town used to talk about, why don't--why don't you people--why don't you--you young people be like this Johnson boy? He is--he is--he is so--so nice." Well, uh, I don't ask any special favors and want any special award for being considered nice. (laughs) I was afraid to be bad. (both laugh)
HALL: Tell me, did you get a good haircut from, uh, Joe.
JOHNSON: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
HALL: Uh, did he give ya--
JOHNSON: --he did about as good a job as, uh, anybody else would have done. Idon't know whether--I--I never--and no--
HALL: --and maybe you don't--you don't get--you don't respect a good haircuttill you're sittin' in a--
JOHNSON: --well, I--well I--and even, uh--even in, uh--out--out of the Navy,02:12:00I--I take that attitude well, uh--I don't have to look at it, so cut it anyway you want to, and--
HALL: --except when you're shaving, that's it.
JOHNSON: Yeah. But, if--if--if the people make fun of the way you cut my hairthen I'll go to another barber next time.
JOHNSON: I--i--i--in two weeks I'll--I'll be back to another barber.
HALL: Okay, so you--you--when you, uh--when you left, uh, Columbia and you--youfinished eleventh grade, so your school didn't go through twelve grades?
JOHNSON: Mm-mm, the white school went through twelve grades.
HALL: It did?
JOHNSON: The little boy who graduated from the white high school lived rightacross the street from me. I used to study in his kitchen. He used to study in my kitchen. We used to study, uh, I, uh, used to study out on his front porch, and he used to study out on my front porch. He went to the white school. I went to the negro school. He graduated from twelfth grade. I graduated from ninth grade. He went to the University of Tennessee without any conditions. I was put 02:13:00back two years (??). I went to a substandard school. He went to a standard school. The--the--the only difference was he was white. I was black. I go to the black school, which is not standard. But by studying together we obviously must have done pretty well in--i--i--we would have gotten about the same marks.
HALL: Uh-huh, but what do you mean by substandard? You mean it was not accredited?
JOHNSON: That's right.
HALL: And so you were put back to what--
HALL: --what you had to do then to make it up.
JOHNSON: Oh, I had to--had to take a lot. First of I all I had--had the twelfthgrade to take.
HALL: So where'd you go for that?
JOHNSON: Uh, Knoxville College Academy. Knoxville College had an academy for allthese people all across the south who had gone to these, uh, rinky-dink, uh, 02:14:00schools and were not ready for college work, and this was a first-rate, standard, uh, accredited college, Knoxville College, run by Northern Presbyterians, a--a--a--a no--no-nonsense school. It was a first-rate college, and if you were not ready for freshman they didn't admit you. I wasn't ready for freshman, and they didn't admit. They said you have--we will evaluate your credits, mail them up to you, and all that we give you credit for that comes out of that school, you have to take an examination. And all that you don't pass on the examination, then you take it. I did pretty well on my--on my mathematics. I did all right on the Latin (??) that my uncle had taught me on the back porch. I 02:15:00got credit for those, that, uh, grammar that the lady taught us stood me in good stead. I made good marks on the English test, but first of all I had at--at by--by anybody's calculations I at least I had to admit that I had the twelfth grade work to do, and then in--on general principle, uh, they, uh--they gave me, uh, a lot of not taking things over but taking things to fill in, to make substance, uh, so that they could say that I had, uh, um, um, an accredited high school diploma when I finished, uh, that way before I went into college.
HALL: So how long did that take you?
JOHNSON: Two years.
HALL: Two years. And you lived in--in Knoxville on the campus?02:16:00
JOHNSON: On the campus, tuition and board, two years that the white boy wholived across the street from me did not have to pay. He didn't have to pay. I had to--I had room and board, room, board, tuition, away from home, of course, as a penalty for having gone to a black school.
HALL: Now, who paid that?
JOHNSON: Mm, my people, my dad.
HALL: You didn't have a scholarship?
HALL: Must have been hard for you to have managed that.
JOHNSON: Well, uh, that's what we're bellyaching about all the time. Uh, sureit's hard to--
HALL: Did you--did you work when you worked there?
JOHNSON: Yeah, I worked. Got ten cents an hour.
HALL: Doing what?
JOHNSON: Um-hm. I did quite a bit of work, but, uh, my job--my job was to catchup and get out of high school so I could--so I could go to college. 02:17:00
JOHNSON: And so I had a big--big incentive right off, get out of high school.
HALL: So where did you go from there?
JOHNSON: Virginia Union.
HALL: Why didn't you stay at Knoxville?
JOHNSON: Oh, um, I didn't want to spend--I knew I'd have, I, I, I anticipatedfour years in college. I knew I had these two years at Knoxville. I might take enough freshman work during that second year at Knoxville to be well on my way toward finishing freshman class, and--and as a matter of fact, uh, I--they--they--they saw that I could take it, and so they, uh, piled on me enough stuff so that while I was getting off those two years of high school 02:18:00work, uh, I also, by the end of those two years, I had, uh, uh, worked off two-thirds of the freshman class. Now with that I would have say three and a half years in college, and I didn't want to have anywhere from five--from three--from, um, five to six years at one place.
HALL: Oh yeah.
JOHNSON: And so it was--it was a break. I finished high school here ready to gointo college. Then I'll just go to another college. And I m--
HALL: --and--and--you could transfer some of those credits, couldn't you?
JOHNSON: And so all I--with my high school diploma from Knoxville CollegeAcademy, that got my high school out of the way. Two-thirds of freshman, I was well into the freshman classes. So when I got to--uh, I got to Virginia Union, 02:19:00um, that's another first rate, uh, college, and that college recognized, uh, uh, the--the high standard of Knoxville College, so they gave me credit for two-thirds of freshman class, and they said we won't put you in the sophomore class, but you got two much to be classed as a freshman, so I was never classed as a freshman. I was just, uh, uh, what is it they call it? Uh, un--unclassified.
JOHNSON: And I took--I took sophomore--I took practically all of my sophomorework plus that one-third of freshman that I still had hanging over. So when I got out of the sophomore work I was a junior.
HALL: What kind of school was Virginia Union? Or is it? It's still--
JOHNSON: --yeah, yeah, it's still in existence. It's a, uh--it's a Baptist, uh,school run by Northern Baptists.
HALL: Is it still run by Northern Baptists?
JOHNSON: Yes, yes, sir.
JOHNSON: Um, the northern--uh, the present day Baptists of the, uh, all of02:20:00these, uh, negro schools across the south that, uh, were established by these northerners, really, uh--it's a--it's a kind of a, uh, carry--not over but carry on of the, uh, uh, antislavery movement. Uh, during slavery--it was anti-slavery--
JOHNSON: --of when, uh, uh, when slavery claim--came to a close--
JOHNSON: --1865, then came the Freedman's Movement. What can you do for thesepeople who used to be slaves?
JOHNSON: Now we got them free, it's not fair to just turn them out on thestreet, and so the Freedman's Bureau you hear about in some of the hist--uh, some of the history books uh, viscous, uh, devils who wrote the books, 02:21:00they--they maligned the Freedman's Bureau, and my God, you ask--you ask the people who were the recipients of that benefit. They'll tell you it was a Godsend.
JOHNSON: Uh, Freedman's Bureau. Then, uh, shortly after 1870, between 1865 and18--1890 the same spirit in the succeeding generations transferred--shows itself in various forms. Uh, first in anti-slavery, next in Freedman's Bureau thing, and next in establishing colleges.
HALL: But the--but the colleges were all established after slavery.
JOHNSON: Oh yeah.
HALL: After the war.
JOHNSON: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So, uh--
HALL: --so Virginia Union was established--
JOHNSON: --about 1866.
HALL: Eighteen sixty-six, uh-huh.
JOHNSON: And Knoxville College about 1866 or '67. Talladega College about 18-,02:22:00uh, in--in the sixties or seventies, I think. No, no, uh, yeah, late sixties or seventies.
HALL: Wh--wh--where is--
JOHNSON: --Morehouse and all, all those schools were established, uh, about, uh,18--between 60--between '66 and I'll say '70, '70, I mean, uh, '76.
HALL: There were no black colleges, of course, in the south before the Civil War.
JOHNSON: No, no, no, anybody--anybody--any blacks getting--uh, uh, being--beingtaught to read or write was, uh, uh, well, it was--it was a crime to teach a--a black. A white person would be punished. A negro would be punished.
HALL: Where in Richmond is Virginia Union located?
JOHNSON: Oh, I don't know now. -----------(??) Lomb--Lombardy street, uh, it'scalled North Lombardy Street. I don't know whether it's north, south, east, or 02:23:00west. And--
HALL: --what is it, L--L--how do you spell it?
JOHNSON: Lombardy, L-O-M-B-A-R-D-Y.
HALL: Oh, Lombardy, yeah.
JOHNSON: Lombardy, Lombardy, Lombardy.
HALL: Yes. Like the poplar tree in a white park. Was--was that in a black neighborhood?
JOHNSON: No, sir.
HALL: Well, where was it?
JOHNSON: It was a--oh, big, big, big territory, big campus, big campus.
HALL: Was it in a town or on the outskirts?
JOHNSON: No, no, outside of town. A big campus up there, and white people lived----------(??). Now, eh, between there and town you go through a big, uh, black, uh, is--uh, area, but out in that section most of the--most of the property is owned by white.
HALL: Can you remember your first, uh, visit to Virginia Union? Can you rememberyour first time you went there? D--
JOHNSON: --the f--the first year, first--
HALL: --well, you didn't go before you became student did you, you just went?
JOHNSON: Yeah, yeah.
HALL: When you were--
JOHNSON: --sent my--sent my transcript ahead of me. My transcript was the only02:24:00representation of me over there at Virginia Union until I got there in September of 1927, '27, '28, '29.
HALL: For those three years you were there?
JOHNSON: September '20--September '27 I walked on campus for the first time.
HALL: How--how did it look to you? You were kind of green, weren't you?
JOHNSON: Oh yes, yes, yes, but, uh, but I--I'd gotten a lot of the country outof me when I--when I got to Knox--
HALL: --that's true--
JOHNSON: --Knoxville not (??) two years of--
HALL: --that's true.
JOHNSON: --and--and--and, uh, bear this in mind. When I finished, um, theeleventh grade at home or when my daddy and my uncle, who were my sponsors, uh, and my mother was dead by this time, all the rest of the family had gone away, 02:25:00so three of us. Last three years I was in--in school there at Columbia I did all the house cleaning and, uh, all the cooking, and I carried papers in the afternoon, and I milked, uh, the cow in the morning and in the evening, and--
[End of interview.]