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
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.
completely different that anywhere in the South and his biggest concern was
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
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.
accomplishments were open housing legislation and discrimination laws being
*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
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.
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.