PART I. INTRODUCTION
CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION
Vernon Johns was a man who never really got his due. And that is still true today.
In fact, both whites and blacks are still scared of the thought of Vernon Johns. That makes this book unpublishable in the racist United States, even though there is no decent biography of the father of the civil rights movement.
To give the reader an idea of the racism that still keeps the Vernon Johns story from being heard, we can quote from one of the editors of a southern university press. "The manuscript itself has some prophetic qualities which make it both attractive and problematic for this (I won't try to speak for others) university press. I simply cannot see it negotiating successfully our formal review process, culminating in presentation to our faculty editorial board. And so I must reluctantly decline to move it further toward publication here." Translating this into the racism behind the decision, we here at a southern university are too racist to consider publishing this.
American publishers would have published this work if we had written it so that it would have been in harmony with belief system of a racist country. The problem is that we are not racists, so there is no way we can rewrite the history in the racist terms more acceptable to today's current stress on multicultural segregation.
The three great pushes for civil rights in the United States were the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. campaign against Jim Crow in the North, the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. attack on segregation in the South. Few people realize this, but the one man who influenced all three events was Vernon Johns.
And yet, this man is virtually unknown. Vernon Johns was a man who never really got his due. And that is still true today. The authors of this book can testify to how great a struggle it was to gather information about this relatively unsung hero. In fact, he has been completely ignored by academicians, and only investigated slightly by those in the media fields of journalism and movie production. This oversight of such an outstanding man has to be examined. And this is one of the reasons for the book.
Vernon Johns did not help much in the task of rescuing his reputation. And that is because he did not save many of his own writings. His daughter, Jeanne Johns Adkins (1993), said that "Let me tell you something about my father. He was the world's most disorganized person. He would just print these, pitch them into the trunk of his car and if he just happened to have one left when he got back home, we would see it. So, in terms of keeping things, we have very few sermons on paper."
We need to study Vernon Johns because the United States after the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s is following a pattern very similar to that followed by the United States after the finish of the American civil war. And that pattern includes the development of a new, if somewhat modified, system of segregation.
We need a Vernon Johns today. And looking into his life may provide some clues as to the resistance and obstacles thrown up in the way of men of vision. One thing we will find is that opposition will come not only from whites, but also from blacks. Vernon Johns had to fight both races to have his voice heard.
Why write about someone who died more than thirty years ago when there are currently racial and ethnic crises in America that deserve analysis? American social scientists have too much of an emphasis on politics and especially the politics of the moment. They tend not to take the long perspective, which can help place today's events in perspective. They tend to look at the day's events from today's popular political perspectives, which primarily represent the various divisions of self-interest in the larger society at that moment.
The authors must warn the reader that this book is not politically correct. Politically correct speech and writing is nothing new. It is a way of avoiding having to confront the awful realities of racism in this society. Gunnar Myrdal (quoted in Hamilton 1991:4) recognized the presence of a politically correct language and view of the world in the Jim Crow system. "I have come to understand how a whole system of moral escape has become polite form in the South. (He could well have included the North.) This form is applicable even to scientific writings and, definitely, to public discussion and teaching on all levels. . . . It is contrary to the aims of raising issues and facing problems; it makes difficult an effective choice of words. . .. It is actually assumed that the race issue is a half dormant, but easily awakened beast." But by agreeing to restrict the consideration of race and racism, daily life can remain comfortable for those in the morally corrupt society.
Vernon Johns himself was a victim of a politically correct code. After all, he was constantly violating the code. He was a man who said what others were afraid to say. While inspiring the few, his words made most of his listeners uncomfortable, and this in turn would anger them. After all, people don't like to feel uncomfortable. But it was Vernon Johns's mission to break this sense of comfortableness.
Here's thanks to Roland M. Baumann, College Archivist, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio; Fred Boehlkey of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Ray Bonis, Assistant Archivist, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia; Lucius Edwards, archivist, Virginia State University, Petersburg, Virginia; Thomas C. Emory, Jr., Director, Central Library, Boydton, Virginia; Fordham University Library staff in the inter-library loan division, Bronx, New York; Ida E. Jones for researching into the files at Howard University, Washington, D.C.; and Ellen Hassig Ressmeyer, archivist, Drain-Jordan Library of West Virginia State College, Institute, West Virginia; Beth Roebuck of Farmville for lending us a copy of The Second Century.
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