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Interview with Leroy Johnson, February 27, 2007

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:04 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: Our guest today is, uh, Senator Leroy Johnson.

Segment Synopsis: Bob Short introduces Senator Leroy Johnson.

00:00:17 - Early life

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Partial Transcript: But Senator Johnson, before we get into politics let me ask you about you.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about his upbringing in Atlanta, Ga. He talks about being born at Grady Hospital, attending Booker T. Washington High School, and how his life changing experience at Moorehouse College. Johnson recalls his visits to the segregated Fox Theater.

Keywords: Booker T. Washington High School; Fox Theater; Grady Hospital; race relations; segregation

00:02:06 - Education at Morehouse College / Law school

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Partial Transcript: Well, I was accepted into Morehouse.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about how his education at Moorehouse College as a defining moment in his life because he was encouraged by the President of the College to become iron-clad in the fight against racial injustice.
Senator Johnson also talks about why he went to law school in North Carolina.

Keywords: Dr. Benjamin Mays; Fox Theater; Morehouse College; State Aid; University of Georgia; chapel; entitlement; evil of segregation; race relations; segregation

00:06:58 - Early career / Working for the Solicitor-General

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Partial Transcript: You turned down a good offer, I believe, from a firm in Tuskegee.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson speaks about how he turned down an offer to practice law in Tuskegee, but he worked in the Solicitor-General's office (now the District Attorney) instead. Johnson remarks how this was the best decision he had ever made.

Keywords: A.T. Walden; Paul Webb; Solicitor-General; Tuskegee; Tuskegee Institution

00:10:16 - Election to the Georgia State Senate

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Partial Transcript: And then there was reapportionment.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson tells how reapportionment helped him win his seat in the Georgia State Senate. The year Johnson ran for office, the County Unit System was repealed. Reapportionment and the ruling of Judge Pine helped Johnson win his seat in the 38th District.

Keywords: Georgia State Senate; Judge Pine; county unit system; election; one man one vote; reapportionment; repeal

00:12:10 - First days of the Senate

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Partial Transcript: And you took your seat in 1963.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson reflects his first days of the Georgia State Senate, and he shares how the Senators treated him because he was a black man. This all changed when the other Senators needed Johnson's vote to break the tie on a certain issue. He used their desperate situation to push for his bills to be discussed on the Senate Floor.

Keywords: "cement factory"; 1963; Atlanta; General Assembly; Jackie Robinson; bill; committee; delegation; negotiation; politics; vote

00:17:01 - Combating segregation at the Capitol

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Partial Transcript: When you first went to the Capitol there were still racial segregated signs, water fountains, restrooms, even the cafeteria.

Segment Synopsis: When Johnson was elected to the Senate, the Capital at the time was still segregated. Johnson states how he felt like it was his duty to desegregate the Capitol. He tells how he segregated the restrooms, water fountains, and the cafeteria. Johnson desegregated the capitol without a fanfare of the media.

Keywords: Carl Sanders; Joe Seldman; Metro Cam; desegregate; segregation signs

00:23:10 - Chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee

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Partial Transcript: Well, you broke the ice, you accumulated friends, you became the chairman of a very important committee -- all of that within a short distance of time.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson describes his rise to the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee. Johnson negotiated with Governor Carter for the position, and he became the first black chairman of the committee.

Keywords: Culver Kidd; Jimmy Carter; Judiciary Committee; Lester Maddox; Senator Webb; Temperance Committee; chairman; negotiation; relationship

00:29:56 - Friendships with fellow senators

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Partial Transcript: Well, speaking of Culver Kidd, who were your closest friends in the Senate?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson discusses some of his closest friends that he made in the Georgia State Senate. He remarks that the friendships that he developed in the senate seemed to have lasted a long time.

Keywords: Bob Smalley; Culver Kidd; Frank Downey; Hugh Gillis; Jack Riley

00:32:30 - Emergence of other black candidates in Georgia politics

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Partial Transcript: What was the – was there planning behind that?

Segment Synopsis: Short asks Johnson about the emergence of other black candidates after his election. Johnson states that the emergence comes from either black candidates who were going to run for office anyways and candidates that were backed by the organization of the Atlanta Negro Voters League. This organization helped black Republicans and Democrats get voted into office.

Keywords: A.T. Walden; Atlanta Negro Voters League; Atlanta Voters League; Ben Brown; J.C. Doherty; Julian Bond; Warren Cochran

00:36:00 - Role in the gubernatorial election between Carl Sanders and Jimmy Carter

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Partial Transcript: Well, you had a great career in the Senate.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson had mentioned the relationships that he had with Carl Sanders and Jimmy Carter. Johnson explained who he supported in the gubernatorial election between Sanders and Carter. Short and Johnson reflect on that election.

Keywords: Carl Sanders; Jimmy Carter; election; gubernatorial election; integration; relationship; role; support

00:39:31 - Campaign for mayor

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Partial Transcript: Well, let me move forward now.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson reflects on his unsuccessful race to be Mayor of Atlanta. He was encouraged by his acquaintances to run, but in hindsight, Johnson states that running for mayor was a mistake.

Keywords: Atlanta; Meynard Jackson; decision; election; loss; mayor

00:41:36 - Reflection on Georgia Governors

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Partial Transcript: Jimmy Carter did quite a bit to break down the barriers of segregation when he was Governor.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson tells his opinion on who the best Georgia Governors were in the 20th century.

Keywords: Carl Sanders; George B Busbee; Jimmy Carter; Roy Barnes; segregation

00:42:45 - Reflection on Zell Miller

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Partial Transcript: What do you think about your colleague in the Senate, Zell Miller, and his speaking to the Republican Convention?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson shares his opinion about Zell Miller and his speaking to the Republican Convention. Miller had once been a Democrat, but he was switching over to the Republican party.

Keywords: Democratic Party; Democrats; Republican Convention; Zell Miller; betrayal; senator

00:44:23 - Reflections on Lester Maddox / Coordinating Muhammad Ali's returning fight in Atlanta

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Partial Transcript: What did you think when Lester Maddox, who had been Governor, turned around and got elected Lieutenant Governor...?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson shares his opinion on Lester Maddox.
He then goes on to share the story of how he acquired the license for Muhammad Ali to have a fight in Atlanta for the first time in 5 years.

Keywords: Carl Sanders; Lester Maddox; Muhammad Ali; Vietnam War; boxing; fight; license; welfare

00:51:59 - Committee meeting at the Commerce Club

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Partial Transcript: That’s a very interesting story.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson shares a story of how he was discriminated against at the Senator's luncheon at the Commerce Club; the issue was solved with a phone call to the Governor.

Keywords: Carl Sanders; Commerce Club; Hugh Gillis; Mills Lane; committee meeting; governor; luncheon; segregation; senators

00:55:55 - Involvement with the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials / Henry Aaron and the Atlanta Braves

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Partial Transcript: You were – you helped form an organization known as GABEO.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about his involvement with the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials. He later talks about his campaigns to draw people from around the country to Georgia. Johnson mentions his letter he wrote to Henry Aaron to encourage him to move the Braves to Atlanta.

Keywords: "Come South Young Man"; Braves; GABEO; Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials; Henry Aaron; Tyrone Brooks; baseball; minority politics

00:59:26 - Reflection on career

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Partial Transcript: If you could look back on your career, would you change it?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson reflects how his career made an impact on history. He was the first black state senator elected in 50 years. Johnson states how he was happy in his career as a legislator because he was able to use his mind and make a contribution to history.

Keywords: Carl Sanders; Georgia State Senate; Hugh Gillis; State Senate

01:02:18 - Reflection on Sen. Johnson's acceptance from the other state senators

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Partial Transcript: Senator, you mentioned negotiation is the best way to succeed in politics.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson reflects on the contrasting way the other senators treated him throughout his terms in office. He talks about how he was eventually accepted by the other Senators; this helped Johnson get a program sponsored in order to help black kids with the Merit Exam.

Keywords: Bobby Rowan; Culver Kidd; Gene Holley; Georgia Voters League; Merit Exam; negotiation; reception; reconsideration; senate

01:11:58 - Pressure for integration / Relationship with Martin Luther King Jr.

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Partial Transcript: Senator, as Georgia’s first black Senator was there
pressure on you from Civil Rights groups to speed up racial integration?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson shares his responsibility that he felt that he had as a black man to integrate the State Capitol, and be successful as a State Senator. Johnson later shares his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Keywords: Civil Rights Movement; Durham, NC; Julian Bond; Martin Luther King Jr.; Moorehouse College; change; integration; segregation

01:15:16 - Remembrance

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Partial Transcript: Senator, one final question, if I may.

Segment Synopsis: Senator Johnson states how he would like to be remembered in Georgia state history.

Subjects: Georgia; Hugh Gillis; equality; impression; individual; integration; legislator; race; segregation; state senate