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Race and Remembrance

A Memoir

Arthur L. Johnson

Publication Year: 2008

Race and Remembrance tells the remarkable life story of Arthur L. Johnson, a Detroit civil rights and community leader, educator, and administrator whose career spans much of the last century. In his own words, Johnson takes readers through the arc of his distinguished career, which includes his work with the Detroit branch of the NAACP, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, and Wayne State University. A Georgia native, Johnson graduated from Morehouse College and Atlanta University and moved north in 1950 to become executive secretary of the Detroit branch of the NAACP. Under his guidance, the Detroit chapter became one of the most active and vital in the United States. Despite his dedicated work toward political organization, Johnson also maintained a steadfast belief in education and served as the vice president of university relations and professor of educational sociology at Wayne State University for nearly a quarter of a century. In his intimate and engaging style, Johnson gives readers a look into his personal life, including his close relationship with his grandmother, his encounters with Morehouse classmate Martin Luther King, and the loss of his sons. Race and Remembrance offers an insider’s view into the social factors affecting the lives of African Americans in the twentieth century, making clear the enormous effort and personal sacrifice required in fighting racial discrimination and poverty in Detroit and beyond. Readers interested in African American social history and political organization will appreciate this unique and revealing volume.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: African American Life Series

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix

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Foreword: A Magnificent Life and Journey: Dr. Arthur L. Johnson

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pp. xi-xiv

Great lives, in their encounters with successes and failures, hope and despair, glory and tragedy, heights and depths, and faith and doubt, disclose much about the vitality and creative power, the meaning and mystery of the human spirit at its best...

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pp. xv-xvii

I hesitated in developing a list of acknowledgments, knowing that such a list was bound to contain a number of omissions, but I wanted to go as far as I could in recognizing the contributions of others to the development of my own thought...

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pp. xix-xxiii

I am honored to prepare this introduction to invite you to read and reread this marvelous memoir about the life and times of Arthur L. Johnson. From a humble beginning, he has lived a good life, confronting the good and the bad...

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1. Early Years

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pp. 1-16

I was born in Americus, Georgia, in 1925 to Clara Stewart and Arthur Allen. My birth was out of wedlock, and my biological father was never a part of my life. Nor was I ever curious about what he was like. My mother...

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2. Dear Old Morehouse

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pp. 17-38

No institution has touched my life as much as Morehouse College in Atlanta. Morehouse is unique in its place in higher education in America. As the years have passed, my understanding of the debt I owe this small and proud...

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3. Detroit NAACP

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pp. 39-81

I boarded a train from the Deep South to Detroit. We stopped in Cincinnati, which falls on the Mason-Dixon Line, where trains headed north were no longer segregated, in theory if not in practice. Except for the summer I worked on the tobacco...

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4. Detroit Public Schools

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pp. 82-101

It was a difficult decision to leave my position as executive secretary of the Detroit NAACP. I felt that our efforts against discrimination and segregation were getting better results as the civil rights movement gained momentum...

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5. Two Tragedies, 1967–1968

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pp. 102-112

After the 1967 Detroit riot erupted, a top white leader in the city reputedly said that maybe the white leadership had been talking to the wrong black leaders in the city. By this comment, the white leader meant that since recognized...

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6. Wayne State University

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pp. 113-132

When I retired from Wayne State University in 1995, the university held a ceremony to honor my twenty-three years of service. The president of Wayne at the time, David Adamany, spoke to the audience of friends and associates gathered...

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7. President of Detroit NAACP

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pp. 133-144

I served as president of the Detroit NAACP from 1987 to 1993. It had been more than two decades since I had a leadership role in the organization. Much had changed in this time regarding the perception of the NAACP. When I departed...

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8. Friendship with Damon

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pp. 145-157

Damon Keith and I became close friends shortly after I arrived in Detroit in 1950 to lead the NAACP branch. Our friendship, as I write today, is in its sixth decade. It not only spans a veritable lifetime, it is the defining friendship of my...

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9. Death of Three Sons

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pp. 158-171

My first marriage, to Thelma Thorpe, gave me three sons: Averell, Brian, and Carl. Averell was born in 1952, Brian in 1955, and Carl in 1957. A fourth son was born in my second marriage: David, in 1966. My second wife had two children...

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10. Searching for the Good Life

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pp. 172-196

I realize that it is somewhat presumptuous to offer advice on “searching for the good life.” It assumes that I have somehow arrived at this destination and have something to say about lessons learned along the way. At this point...

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Appendix A: Eulogies: Work, Love, Gratitude, and Remembrance

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pp. 197-232

One of my longtime friends, Dores McCree, approached me at the conclusion of a memorial service for one of our friends and said, “Arthur, you have become our community’s unofficial eulogist, and I want you to off er a eulogy...

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Appendix B: Letter from Joseph Hudson about the Formation of New Detroit

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pp. 233

Dear Arthur, You put a challenge to me in your request that I write you some thoughts as to how the New Detroit Committee was formed, what were the various interactions, and now, almost forty years later...

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Appendix C: Letter from William Patrick about Joining New Detroit

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pp. 235-236

Dear Arthur, You asked me how I came to be part of New Detroit. First, let me back up a moment to contemplate my thoughts and feelings as our town was engulfed in flames and devastation during those...

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Appendix D: A Commitment to the NAACP

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pp. 237-239

I am honored to have been elected to serve as president of the Detroit branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and I am grateful for the trust of my fellow NAACP members and friends...

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Appendix E: “Buy Detroit” Campaign

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pp. 241-242

On December 12, 1989, we launched another phase of the Detroit branch NAACP “Project Freedom,” which was announced a little more than a year ago. It is a “Buy Detroit” campaign. The aim of Buy Detroit is to strengthen...

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Appendix F: Elected to the NAACP Presidency for a Third Term

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pp. 243-246

Judge Keith, my colleagues on the branch executive committee who have just been installed with me today, members and friends of the Detroit branch NAACP: I want to express to you my genuine appreciation in being...

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Appendix G: Rodney King Verdict and the Detroit Branch NAACP Twelve-Point Plan

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pp. 247-249

All of the citizens of Detroit can feel a measured sense of relief that the life of our community has not been traumatized by any acts of violence in response to the disaster of the Rodney King jury verdict. We were horrified by the verdict...


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pp. 251-252


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pp. 253-262

E-ISBN-13: 9780814337493
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814333709

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 42
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: African American Life Series