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Charles Johnson

 Interview by Trevor Griffey and Brooke Clark March 3, 2005

 Summary by Brooke Clark

 

00:00    Charles Johnson was born in Mahern, Arkansas. When he was six months his family moved to Little Rock, Arkansas where he went to grade school through junior college. He grew up in the late 1930s and 40s in total segregation going to segregated schools all the way through junior college. He went to Dunbar High School which was near Central High School the historic site of the Little Rock Nine integrating the school with the help of the National Guard. His mother was a domestic worker in various white people houses and his father worked in a boiler room in a hospital.

3:55      After junior college, he joined the army in 1948 which was after the war had ended. He had signed up for two years and the Korean War started and he ended up staying two more years for a total of four and spent most of his time in Germany. After being discharged, he went on to get his degree at Arkansas A&M at Pine Bluff.

6:15      The unit he served in was completely segregated and only after he was discharged did President Truman desegregate the army. Before he left for the army, he had only been out of the South for a Sunday School conference in Chicago. His ultimate goal was to go to law school. They were just beginning to desegregate in Arkansas and the chances to attend school in Fayetteville were not good because he would have a hard time finding employment.

9:30      Inspirations for law school came from a career day when he was in high school. He had never seen a lawyer and was impressed with the one visiting. Three or four days after receiving his degree he packed everything up in his car and drove to Seattle.

11:20    He arrived into Seattle and started taking classes at the University of Washington law school.

*12:00   His advisor encouraged him to take teacher training because he thought the odds were against him and he thought he should have something to fall back on. The SAT wasn’t offered on his campus, so he wrote the company to have it administered to him at his high school.

            Seattle was completely different that anywhere in the South and his biggest concern was finding employment.

14:45    Law school was a very different experience for him because he went from attending an all black school to a majority white school. He was the only black to graduate in his class.

16:40    After graduating, he began working in a private practice and wasn’t able to get a job at the prosecutors office where he really wanted to work.

18:20    In 1958, Jack Tanner, approached him to try and revive the Seattle Branch of the NAACP. Within one year, he became president of the branch and ran a membership drive that gathered 1,000 members in six weeks and remained president for 4-5 years.

22:58    The first year as president of the Seattle NAACP was spent developing the branch. After that, they became involved with all civil rights revolution joining with people in the South. Issues such as open housing, schools, employment, unions, public accommodation, and police community relations and at almost every area to desegregate or integrate the total way of life in the South.

26:30    Freedom schools were held to point how segregated schools here in Seattle same as in the South and that housing patterns created this.

28:40    NAACP became effective in the 60s and 70s became involved in a lot of activity here. CACRC was the umbrella organizations like CORS, NAACP, Urban League, major churches in Tacoma, and the heads of each organization met on a regular basis. The NAACP major role was to negotiate first, then use direct action.

33:30    It was challenging to get the powers that be to open up their jobs to minorities in the public as well as the private sector.

36:20    Some accomplishments were open housing legislation and discrimination laws being passed.

*37:50   Integration of the schools and they finally convinced the school district to open up to minorities. With police community relations they created freedom patrols which were created by the NAACP, which had two members follow the beat police at a safe distance to see what they were doing.

41:55    He was president of the NAACP for five years, then went on to be Northwest Area Conference President for eight years. In the late sixties, he went onto the National Board of Directors in New York for twenty-seven years from 1968-1975 which helped shape national policy for the organization. For the majority of the time he chaired the legal committee which set national legal policy and vice-chair on branches setting policy for 800 branches nationally. He has been active on the local board since 1958.

45:15    The Northwest Area Conference had the same problems that the individual branches had. Issues mainly dealt with housing, employment, and police community relations.

48:38    In 1969, he became a municipal court judge for eleven years. In 1981 he was appointed by the governor to superior court and retired in 1998. In 1967, he started Model Cities.

50:50    He chaired Model Cities at the beginning at they hired Walt Hundley as executive directed once they had secured the grant.

52:20    Model cities had a positive effect on the city of Seattle because they had funding for the programs they were trying to implement.

58:30    Leadership conflicts emerged between the NAACP and the younger Black Panther Party which criticized the older generation NAACP members but to a lesser degree than in other large cities.

1:03:00 A debate emerged in the black community of the best strategy to integrate the schools. The question was not whether or not they need to desegregate the schools, but how to do it, and who should control it.

*1:09:35 The boycott of the schools was a success because it stimulated discussion in the school district as it had set out to do. Te first step was to integrate the schools, and the second was to implement bussing.

1:11:50 The CACRC ended as a result of progress happening, people changing, organizations dispersing, and major churches withdrew because they felt that had accomplished what they set tout to do.

1:14:00 The CACRC was a unique multi-cultural organization that helped strengthen the blacks cause because as they were meeting with white structure, it helped to have other whites supporting their cause.

1:16:45 The change in the Central Area came as a result of blacks slowly moving out and whites moving back in as they were able to buy homes throughout the city.

1:21:40 The NAACP was heavily involved in major cases dealing with school integration, housing, and police community relations. Discrimination is rare now because there are lots of laws on the books.

1:29:30 The significance of the Civil Rights movement locally is because it is important to now your history and will be beneficial to African Americans in the future.


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