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Oral History Interview with Nelson Johnson by William Chafe

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Date: January 1979

Author: Nelson Johnson

Biographical/Historical abstract: Nelson Johnson (1943-), a longtime activist in Greensboro, was a student leader at A&T during the 1969 Dudley High School protest and a leader in the Communist Workers Party during the November 3, 1979 "Death to the Klan" rally at which five CWP members were killed. Johnson later became minister at Faith Community Church and helped initiate the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Additional contributor: William Henry Chafe


This oral history interview conducted by William Chafe circa January, 1979, with Nelson Johnson primarily documents Johnson’s opinions on the education system, the 1969 A&T/Dudley protest and the change in activist movements since the sixties. Johnson discusses his opposition to student competency testing requirements introduced by Governor Jim Hunt, the ineffectiveness of busing, how integration masked real problems in education, elements of an effective educational system, and his impression of school board member Walter Johnson. He also recalls the formation of SOBU (Students for Black Unity) in 1969, working with leadership in the NAACP, unity in the black community during the A&T/Dudley protest, the protest investigation by B. J. Battle and A. S. Webb’s; the police sweep of A&T dorms; The Greensboro Record’s story on Willie Grimes’ murder, and police records of the events. He also provides his impressions of Hal Sieber and the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce.

While Johnson does mention some of his current projects in Greensboro, such as organizing Cone Mill workers and college students, for much of the interview he expounds upon political and philosophical concepts and his personal ideology. Topics include the legacy of the sixties in regard to social movements, government efforts to quell activism, the ebb and flow of social movements, the divisions within the black community, capitalism, Marxism, the Black Panthers, affirmative action and funding for minority colleges, how the government was able to absorb the movements of the sixties without much change, the potential link between the working class movement and anti-Vietnam War protesters, and what might have happened if Martin Luther King Jr. wasn't assassinated.

Note: Due to incomplete labeling, project staff cannot verify that both tapes from this interview were recorded on the dame day.


Format of original: Oral History

Collection: William Henry Chafe Oral History Collection

Repository: Duke University

Item#: 4.23.655

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