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The Rest of the Dream

The Rest of the Dream: The Black Odyssey of Lyman Johnson

Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Rest of the Dream
    Book Description:

    InThe Rest of the Dream,Lyman Johnson, grassroots civil rights leader, tells his own story. All four of Johnson's grandparents were slaves in Tennessee. Yet his father was a college graduate, principal of a black school, and the inspiration for his son's love of justice. Lyman Johnson was born in 1906 during the darkest days of segregation. He learned from his father not to sit in the "crow's nest" reserved for blacks in his hometown movie theater. This refusal to accept second-class citizenship became a guiding principle in Johnson's life. Johnson was almost forty-three when he won admission to graduate study at the University of Kentucky in 1949. Crosses were burned on campus. Because of his family commitments, he returned to his teaching position in Louisville and never completed his doctorate. Thirty years later the university that fought to keep him out awarded him an honorary doctor of letters degree. Johnson earned his doctorate the hard way -- by saying no to the crow's nest and other marks of inequality. Johnson's graphic recall of people and incidents and his storyteller's talent for narrative make this record of a unique American life filled with suspense, humor, tragedy, and triumph.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5698-9
    Subjects: Education, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. 2340 Muhammad Ali Boulevard
    (pp. 1-7)

    I’VE LIVED HERE in this same house for almost thirty-five years. When we moved here, the people who lived across the street and up and down the street were just about our class of people. One of the best Negro doctors in town lived a few doors away. A newspaper editor lived right over there. Nice people lived all around us then. Gradually, the old people died out, and the younger people married and settled somewhere else. This part of town became a fading culture area.

    My wife used to beg me to get out of here. She’d say: “Why...

  5. Dark Days in Columbia
    (pp. 7-41)

    IT WAS DURING dark days for black people when I was born into this world in 1906. It was a rough time that didn’t get much better till the end of World War II, when Negro soldiers came home from the war and said, “Hell, if we’ve got guts enough to fight the Nazis and the Japs, we can certainly fight these racist rascals here in the United States.”

    I was born in Columbia, Maury County, Tennessee, on July 12. I was the eighth child and last son in a family of six boys and three girls. I was near...

  6. On the Road to Higher Education
    (pp. 42-58)

    I GRADUATED from the “colored” high school in Columbia in 1924. Since my high school was unaccredited, my diploma wouldn’t get me into college. So I stayed home a year and then went up to Knoxville Academy. I stayed there two years—long enough to prepare for Virginia Union and long enough to know I never wanted to be a Presbyterian. I wanted to be good but not that good!

    Our teachers set a standard for goodness I just couldn’t reach. There was Miss Wishert, my Latin teacher, who couldn’t teach two lines of Latin without bringing in a Sunday...

  7. Way up North in Louisville
    (pp. 58-71)

    NEGROES used to think it was such a blessing to get out of Alabama and Mississippi. If they couldn’t make it all the way North, they’d try to get to Memphis or Nashville or Knoxville. To them even Tennessee was glory land! But I was from Tennessee, and I used to think, “If I could only get to Kentucky, it would be heaven.” When I was a boy, I didn’t know much about Kentucky, but I knew it was north of Tennessee and that was a good direction.

    When my sister invited me to come to Louisville, I had already...

  8. An Iconoclast in the Classroom
    (pp. 71-96)

    WHEN I CAME ALONG, there weren’t many professions open to Negroes. Teaching and preaching were about the only ones I could choose from. Since my father and uncle were teachers, that’s the profession I finally chose. But I got out of school during the depths of the Depression, when there were no teaching jobs open. Then in September of 1933, I got lucky. I was living in Louisville with my sister and brother-in-law, doing odd jobs for my room and board, when a fellow who was supposed to teach at Central Colored High School unexpectedly resigned. It was two weeks...

  9. Black & White Niggers
    (pp. 96-109)

    WHEN I WAS a little boy in Columbia, Tennessee, I heard people talk about the masondixieline. I thought it was one word. It wasn’t till I saw the word in a history book that I realized it was Mason-Dixon Line. But I always knew it meant one thing to black people—freedom. Before the Civil War, for slaves in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama, it meant the Ohio River. To escape slavery, they knew they had to make it to that river. “Keep on running,” they were told. “You better be prepared to keep on running. You may get away from...

  10. Lifting Bales & Other Vocations
    (pp. 109-120)

    FOR MOST of American history, black people have been the hewers of wood and carriers of water and pickers of cotton. We’ve done the backbreaking menial work. Much of the progress this country has made has been on our backs. In our own time, for example, black convict labor has helped build some of the finest highways in the South.

    Back in the 1930s when I was doing a lot of driving in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama, I was always impressed with how good Alabama’s roads were. By comparison, Kentucky’s and Tennessee’s roads were mudholes. One Christmas my family and...

  11. Jim Crow Days
    (pp. 120-132)

    “DON’T SIT IN THE CROW’S NEST.” That’s what my daddy used to tell me when I was a boy in Columbia. The crow’s nest was what he called the balcony where Negroes had to sit when they went to the movie theater. “If I catch you going down that back alley to go up those back stairs to get to that balcony, I’ll skin you alive!” he warned. So I never saw one of those silent Western films other children talked about at school. I saw my first movie when I was nineteen and attending school in Knoxville. There I...

  12. Lunch Counters & Flaming Crosses
    (pp. 132-164)

    WHEN I CAME to Louisville I had a Deep South accent, and the people were a little suspicious of me; but gradually they began to accept me. “Maybe this fellow from Tennessee is a go-getter,” they said. I’ve tried not to disappoint them.

    I got involved in controversy soon after I arrived. I was a civil rights activist before I ever heard the term. One of the first times I raised my hand as an activist was around 1935 when some white people were trying to help Negroes raise money to reopen the black YMCA that had closed several years...

  13. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  14. Black Heroes
    (pp. 164-171)

    ONE DAY in Sunday School when I was about six, the teacher was trying to get us little kids to look to the future. He asked, “Lyman, name some grown person you want to be like.” I said: “I want to be like Mr. Armstrong. He’s fat. He always stands up straight. He wears good clothes. He throws his shoulders back and puts his hands in his pockets and rattles money all the time.”

    Back then I thought a leader was a big man with a lot of money. In fact, I found out that most black leaders have had...

  15. Blacks at the Ballot Box
    (pp. 171-180)

    THE NAME of action in this country is politics. It has taken black people a long time to learn that justice begins at the ballot box. As long as we had no political power, we had no rights in this society. When we began to be a factor in electing mayors, governors, senators, and presidents, the politicians began to take notice. We’ve come a long way from no political voice to electing our own people to positions of leadership.

    I’ve been active in politics for a long time, from ‘Happy’ Chandler in the 1930s to Jimmy Carter and beyond. I...

  16. Uncle Tom & George Wallace
    (pp. 181-186)

    WHEN I WAS a short-term student at the University of Kentucky in 1949, there were two young professors there who would ask me to go out and have a beer with them late at night. They wanted to show how much they respected me. One was from Mississippi and the other from Ohio. The Ohio professor said, “Now, Lyman, you understand I am from the North, and we’ve never had any kind of troubles with Negroes in my hometown?” I said, “Mr. Professor, how many Negroes live in your hometown?” He said, “None.” I said, “All right, when half your...

  17. The Battle’s Not Over
    (pp. 187-195)

    BLACK AMERICANS can trace their ancestry farther back in this country than most white Americans. Blacks have been in this “land of opportunity” for a long, long time. But we still live under worse handicaps than the newest immigrant. Even a Mexican still dripping with water from the Rio Grande has a brighter future. When a white immigrant arrives in this country and speaks no English, he has a handicap. But it’s not a handicap till he opens his mouth. If you see a boy a block away from you, you can tell that he’s black. You don’t know what...

  18. All Colors Are Beautiful
    (pp. 195-198)

    IN THE 1960s a lot of black people started using the slogan “Black is Beautiful.” They said: “Let’s stop denying we’re black. Our skin is dark, and our hair is kinky, so let’s accept it. Let’s look the world in the face and say, ‘I’m black and proud of it.’ “Well, I’ve been a black man all my life and have always been proud of it. I’m glad that a lot of other Negroes agree now with a position I’ve always taken. I’m afraid, however, that some of the black-is-beautiful people went a little too far. They began to look...

  19. Musings of a Militant Pacifist
    (pp. 199-209)

    I’M A PACIFIST. Yet I served in the navy during World War II and was a member of the Louisville draft board during the Vietnam War. I know that sounds inconsistent, but I think my experiences show that I’ve always tried to be an idealist who operates in a realistic world. I’ve always believed that changes are better made from inside rather than from outside the system.

    I was drafted into the navy in 1944. By then the navy had somewhat relaxed its very snooty attitude toward Negroes. They had always wanted Negroes to work as stewards in the officers’...

  20. The Religion of a Doubting Thomas
    (pp. 210-221)

    I’M A Congregationalist now, but like most southern Negroes, I was baptized a Baptist. There’s not a lot of difference. Although I have reservations about some aspects of religion—even the Christian religion—I have benefited from its emphasis on education. For two years I went to Knoxville Academy, a Presbyterian school. Those people were too austere and too good for me. It seemed that we had prayer and sermons all the time. Then I went to a Baptist college in Richmond, Virginia.

    When I came to Louisville, I stayed first with my sister and brother-in-law, who were staunch Baptists....

  21. The Rest of the Dream
    (pp. 221-224)

    WHEN I WAS ACTIVE in the teachers’ union, I would sometimes meet with other members of the executive committee in downtown Louisville. There would be maybe three blacks and ten whites. We’d work till noon and then decide to go out and get a sandwich. It never occurred to the white teachers to ask, “Canwe go here or there to eat?” They could go anywhere they wanted to. I remember as if it were yesterday a meeting in 1948. All the committee members, black and white, walked out together. When we got outside, we blacks pulled off to ourselves...

  22. Index
    (pp. 225-232)