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Interview with Herman Johnson, December 2, 2016

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:17 - Early life in Louisiana

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Partial Transcript: Mr. Johnson, where were you born?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson describes growing up on a plantation in Gilbert, Louisiana. His parents were sharecroppers, and he talks about working on the farm as a child. Johnson discusses moving to Winnsboro when he was eight because his father had a stroke, and his family could no longer farm their portion of land.

Keywords: Louisiana Delta; childhood; chopping cotton; picking cotton; sharecropping; tenant farming

GPS: Gilbert, Louisiana
Map Coordinates: 32.049, -91.658
00:07:55 - Racism and education

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Partial Transcript: When you where living on the plantation, did you have many moments when racism was a really visible force in your life--something that affected you life immediately?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson describes walking multiple miles to school while white children on school buses would throw rocks at him. He mentions segregated movie theaters and talks about how white children tried to start fights. Johnson describes finishing high school and attending Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He talks about talking a year off from school to go to Chicago and then being drafted by the army. Johnson mentions serving in the army for two years before returning to finish school at Southern University.

Keywords: college; discrimination; elementary school; marriage; middle school; military; segregation

00:18:05 - Theodore Roosevelt Mason "T. R. M." Howard

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Partial Transcript: So she said, when you go by, go bye and talk to Dr. T. R. M. Howard.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about meeting Dr. Howard who gave him a job at Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company which Medgar Evers had just vacated. Johnson describes Dr. Howard's large farming operation and mentions Howard's love of hunting. He discusses Howard's fraternal organization, the United Order of Friendship which sought to insure health of its members.

Keywords: Civil Rights Movement; Delta Health Center; International Order of Twelve Knights and Daughters of Tabor; The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); agricultural chemicals; big-game hunting; health center; leadership; teacher; teaching; the Regional Council of Negro Leadership

00:28:32 - Discrimination against Mound Bayou

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Partial Transcript: So what are some of your memories about what this part of the Delta was like when you first arrived?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about how black farmers originally owned all the land surrounding Mound Bayou. He discusses how black farmers lost their land to discriminatory lending agencies that took the land as collateral for defaulted loans. He talks about how in the 1980s, lending agencies refused to grant home loans to people in Mound Bayou for seven years which caused many people to move away because they could not afford to build houses.

Keywords: Delta Housing Development Corporation; Federal Housing Administration (FHA); USDA Rural Development; civil servant; mortgage loans; public office; racism; redlining

00:44:04 - History of Mound Bayou

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Partial Transcript: What year did you arrive here in Mound Bayou?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson describes how Mound Bayou was founded by the former slaves from Joe Davis's plantation. Johnson discusses how Mound Bayou became famous for having the best grade cotton in the world which prompted nearby white farmers to use local cotton gins. He talks about how African Americans controlled the local government and owned all the businesses in the town including multiple large cotton gins.

Keywords: black political power; black-owned businesses; cotton dust; education; family; pollution; rail road

00:53:00 - Agricultural chemicals

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Partial Transcript: In the 1940s--in the late 1940s or the 1950s, when you came here, did you know much or experience much or see much with plantation agriculture in the Delta?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson talks about the prevalent use of pesticides in plantation agriculture. He describes how unprotected field workers would be sprayed by agricultural chemicals. He talks about his work with the Delta Health Center and his concern about the impact of the pesticides on people's health. He discusses the negative affects of the agricultural chemicals on local wildlife, specifically mentioning how the frogs stopped calling.

Keywords: DDT; agricultural airplanes; cotton gin; crop-dusters; herbicides; insecticides; public health

01:01:59 - Farm Co-operative

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Partial Transcript: And then providing better food--fresh foods, and so we started--what is it--the farm co-ops...

Segment Synopsis: Johnson describes how the local health center--now called the Delta Health Center--worked to improve public health by organizing a farm co-op to assist local farmers and provide fresh food. Farmers in the co-op bought supplies in bulk in order to save money. Johnson talks about how the health center worried about the negative effects of chemicals on people's health and encouraged farmers to grow crops with as little pesticides as possible. He describes how he would collaborate with other black farm co-ops in order to share information and resources.

Keywords: Delta Ministry Farm; Fanny Lou Hammer's Freedom Farm; Tufts University; birth defects; farm cooperative; herbicides; pollution; public health; vegetables

01:11:21 - Reparations

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Partial Transcript: So you're the board chair of the Cotton Pickers of America, aren't you?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson describes the importance of remembering sharecropping and plantation agriculture because people continue to benefit from wealth generated by the labor of slaves and sharecroppers. He talks about his desire to open a museum about sharecropping to demonstrate the need for reparations. Johnson describes how Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Mound Bayou to be the "Jewel of the Delta" after he helped the area by building a railroad. Johnson emphasizes the importance of sharing history and working with others, and he states that the wealth of plantation owners needs to be redistributed to the descendants of sharecroppers.

Keywords: cotton; discrimination; labor exploitation; mechanization; racism; tenant farmers; textiles