This post contains highlights of material from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions. For more on this digitization project, click here.
A former Kenan professor of Anthropology and Sociology at UNC, Chapel Hill, Dr. Guy B. Johnson was a researcher and scholar with strong interests in African American culture and society. Dr. Johnson spent much of his career studying race relations in the American South, and often collaborated with other well known academics, such as Howard Odum and Guion G. Johnson.1 A particularly fascinating study conducted by Johnson during the 1930s distributed questionnaires to African Americans seeking their perspectives on stereotypes, racism, discrimination, and the treatment of Blacks in the South. Hundreds of handwritten responses were collected and contributed to a larger study examining “the Participation of Negroes in Southern Life.” The Guy B. Johnson collection contains hundreds of responses that this survey received. Answers often contain emotional stories of individuals being mistreated, disrespected, and misunderstood, and include details that are arresting and often appalling.
One powerful account from the collection is a narrative written by 20-year-old Onah Belle Hawkins, a junior in college from southern Georgia. As she responded to the questions of the survey, Hawkins described her frustration with the lack of opportunities for blacks in higher education and the daily reminders of racial discrimination present in shops, movie theaters, and restaurants wherever she went. She wrote about segregated trolley cars and how she was always led to the back of the store when trying on shoes, and even how a white debt collector came to her family’s house armed with a revolver and threatened her and her mother. Her candid replies fill the space provided and even continue onto the back of the questionnaire.2
In the 1930s, Dr. Johnson and his colleagues hoped that the information gathered through this study would help “to open the minds of white people of the South.”3 The wealth of information contained within the survey responses can still present a fascinating and revealing resource for researchers today. Survey responses can be found in Subseries 5.8.3, Folders 1311 through 1320 of the Guy B. Johnson Papers.
1. Guy Benton Johnson Papers Finding Aid, Biographical Information
2. Folder 1312: Survey on Discrimination (1938?), Location Unknown: Scan 9
3. Folder 1311: Survey on Discrimination (1938?), Location Unknown: Scan 1