Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Lyman T. Johnson, April 25, 1979

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Interviews with the press

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Partial Transcript: The following interview was conducted with Lyman Johnson on Wednesday, April the 25th, 1979, at the home of Lyman Johnson on Muhammad Ali Boulevard in Louisville, Kentucky.

Segment Synopsis: Wade Hall introduces the interview, and Lyman Johnson discusses being quoted in several magazines. Johnson says that the editor of Fortune arranged an interview with him during which he gave a quote that Fortune later called to confirm before they went to print. He said their quote was accurate, but when the magazine came out, they had reduced his statement to only two sentences saying that the problem of unemployment and black unemployment would not be solved until the capitalist system was smashed, which he says left out relevant context. He says this was around 1969. Johnson mentions another quote in Look magazine.

Keywords: Articles; Black unemployment; Capitalism; Capitalist systems; Fortune (magazine); Look (magazine); Misquotations; Unemployment

Subjects: African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Newspapers.; Journalism--Editing.; Periodicals.

00:05:25 - Board of Education meetings

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Partial Transcript: If I didn't go to so many meetings.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about meetings he went to for the Jefferson County Board of Education, as well as a beach vacation and business trip. He discusses their salary, per diems of about forty dollars for each meeting, and other compensation offered to board members. Johnson says that he went to so many meetings one year that he maxed out his total per diem amount of $1,000 a year by early September, which is around twenty-five meetings in total or three per month.

Keywords: Beach vacations; Board of Education meetings; Business trips; Compensation; Expenses; Jefferson County Board of Education; Legitimate expenses; Per diems; Salaries; Salary; Stipends; Sunburn; Travel allowances

Subjects: African Americans--Education.; Education; School boards--African American membership.

00:10:04 - Class system in black society prior to World War II

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Partial Transcript: Well let's, uh, uh, resume where we left off last time.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson describes the black social system in America prior to the 1940s. He says that although there were African Americans with good social standing in the black community, outside of the black community they were treated just as poorly as any other black person. Because of this, the class system within the black community was less divided, and people supported one another regardless of profession, education, or family background. Johnson describes social events in the black community, including dances, parties, and balls, and the intermingling of social classes that occurred there.

Keywords: "Stay in your place"; "Where you belong"; 1930s; 1940s; Acceptance; Affluent; Black clubs; Black community; Black fraternities; Black sororities; Changes; Class system; Congressman William Dawson; Dances; Domestic workers; Education; Events; Exclusive; Family background; Intelligentsia; Intermingling; Lower class; Money; Parties; Prejudice; Professions; Seniority; Social standing; Society; South; Support; Uneducated; Upper class; Upward mobility; White people; World War II

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Social life and customs.; African Americans--Societies, etc.; Louisville (Ky.); Race discrimination.; Race relations--Kentucky; Racism

00:26:30 - Changes in black society after World War II

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Partial Transcript: And what we found out in the--I--I say there was a cleavage.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson discusses how black veterans returning from World War II changed the social and class system in the black community. He talks about the opening of job opportunities and how that affected the class system. He talks about discrimination in the form of "they're the best black doctor in town" versus "they're the best doctor in town."

Keywords: Attainment; Attitudes; Black doctors; Boldness; Changes; Demand; Doctors; Jobs; Lawyers; Military service; Opportunities; People of color; Police; School principals; Separation; Society; Sophisticated; Superiority; Veterans; Vietnam War; White doctors; World War II

Subjects: African American families; African American veterans.; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Social life and customs.; African Americans--Societies, etc.; Integration; Louisville (Ky.); Race discrimination.; Race relations--Kentucky; Racism; World War, 1939-1945

00:36:04 - 1946 Race riot in Columbia, Tennessee

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Partial Transcript: No. These people were bold down in the South, down in my hometown.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson describes a race riot that occurred in his hometown of Columbia, Tennessee in 1946. He describes the inciting incident, when an older black woman wanted her radio repaired and was rudely denied service. Her son, a veteran just back from World War II, reacted to the disrespect and threw the store owner out of a glass window. The black man escaped town but a white mob decided to punish the black community and jailed and attacked innocent black men. He discusses the violence that occurred in the community between the races, including several murders.

Keywords: Black community; Deaths; Fights; Innocent; Insurrections; Jails; Lynching; Mobs; Mothers; Murders; Police; Prisoners; Racial violence; Radios; Repairs; Shooting; Soldiers; South; State militia; Tensions; Trials; White people

Subjects: African American veterans.; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Columbia (Tenn.); Race discrimination.; Race riots; Racism; United States--Race relations.; Violence; World War, 1939-1945

00:51:33 - Personal experience with the race riot in Columbia, Tennessee

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Partial Transcript: Was your family involved?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson continues his discussion of the race riot that occurred in his hometown of Columbia, Tennessee. He talks about his personal experience with the riot when he went to visit his father. He describes wearing his Navy peacoat and being mistaken for a white man while passing through roadblocks of state militia guards. He talks about how black veterans returning from World War II would no longer tolerate disrespect by white people. He talks about how his father's white neighbors felt about his father. He talks about the newspaper the Louisville Defender, which sent reporters to Columbia but they were so guarded by the militia that they could not interview anyone. When Johnson returned to Louisville he gave them all the information he had gleaned while in Columbia, Tennessee. He talks about how a black undertaker was given two weeks paid vacation, which Johnson suspects was done to keep the number of white people killed in the riot secret.

Keywords: 1946; Black community; Death toll; Fathers; Guards; Guns; Killed; Killing; Louisville Defender (newspaper); Media; Militia; Navy; Neighbors; Paid vacations; Passing (racial identity); Reporters; Respect; Shootings; Soldiers; Tensions; Turmoil; Undertakers; White people; World War II

Subjects: African American families; African American neighborhoods; African American veterans.; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Columbia (Tenn.); Race discrimination.; Race riots; Racism; United States--Race relations.; Violence; World War, 1939-1945

01:13:20 - Johnson's real estate in Columbia, Tennessee

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Partial Transcript: I--I lived here, had too much involved down there.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about inheriting property from his father and his uncle in Columbia, Tennessee. He talks about his experiences renting out the stores to white men. He talks about convincing his insurance company to replace his plate glass window that had been shot during the 1946 race riot.

Keywords: Black businesses; Black neighborhoods; Damages; Estates; Fathers; Health; Heirs; Homeplace; Inheritance; Insurance; Landlords; Plate glass windows; Property; Property ownership; Real estate; Rebellions; Renters; Righting wrongs; Shootings; Slot machines; Stores; Uncles; White people; Wife

Subjects: African American families; African American neighborhoods; African Americans--Housing.; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Columbia (Tenn.); Landlord and tenant.; Race discrimination.; Race riots; Racism; Real property.; United States--Race relations.; Violence

01:25:52 - Deterioration of real estate in Columbia, Tennessee

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Partial Transcript: Do you still own property at Columbia?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson discusses the deterioration of buildings and real estate in Columbia, Tennessee. He talks about his experience selling his property and the subterfuge he used to get a more fair price. The interview is concluded.

[By the end of the tape, much of the audio is difficult to hear.]

Keywords: Auctions; Bidding; Businesses; Closing; Conning; Dentists; Deterioration; Lawyers; Prices; Property values; Real estate; Selling; Subterfuge; Vacant

Subjects: African American neighborhoods; African Americans--Housing.; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Columbia (Tenn.); Landlord and tenant.; Race discrimination.; Racism; Real property.; United States--Race relations.