Searching for Friends & Relatives of Major Johns, Civil Rights Hero

For more than six years, I searched for stories and photos of Major Johns who was Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) field director during the Summer of 1965 Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) project in Wilcox County Alabama. His brother William was most helpful but most family members declined to be quoted in my forthcoming book.

Major Johns, center with student protesters at Southern University

Excerpt from This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Wilcox County Freedom Fight, University of Alabama Press, early 2014. Copyright, all rights reserved

Major Johns

One of the leaders who inspired optimism was our beloved SCLC field director Major Johns. Born and raised in Plaquemines, Louisiana, Rev. Major Johns was instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana for at least a decade, yet he is scarcely mentioned in books written to date. In 1960, five years before we met him in Camden, AL, he was arrested along with other Southern University students for sitting-in at a lunch counter in Baton Rouge as part of a multi-state Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) integration drive. When they were released from jail Major Johns and two classmates stood on a school bus while he made a rousing speech. They and other CORE members organized a march to the state capitol of more than three thousand Southern University students to protest segregation and the arrests of students participating in sit-ins at segregated drugstore soda fountains and bus terminals. All of the arrested students were expelled from Southern University and barred from all public colleges and universities in the state.  In 2004, long after Major’s death, the student civil rights workers were awarded honorary degrees and the state legislature passed a resolution in their honor.

The famous photo of Major on the bus with Ronnie Moore is held in the collection of The Advocate  Library  in Baton Rouge which charges for a one time only use. Please contact me if you have any other photos of Major Johns for use in talks about my forthcoming book. Thank you!

6 comments on “Searching for Friends & Relatives of Major Johns, Civil Rights Hero

  1. Alexis says:

    Major Johns is my Great-Grandfather.

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    • Maria Gitin says:

      Hello Alexis, So glad to hear from you. Do you have stories about him or photos you can share? I would love to post more about him, since when I was researching my book (www.thisbrightlightofours.com) very few family members were willing to go on record about him, even though they were proud of him, so I had to rely on my memories of working with him – actually for him, since he was our leader! Major Johns is one of my personal heroes and a great civil rights leader. Thanks for anything more you can share.

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  2. Ms. Gitin. Thank you for the insightful writing of Major Johns. He was my uncle.

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    • Maria Gitin says:

      Thank you for writing. We searched for years for anyone in the family who remembered him and had a few who did, but would not contribute to the book. Fortunately, your Uncle William Johns did and of course, I knew him and others recalled him from his year in Wilcox County 1965. As of today, the book is available on amazon.com. I hope you and others in your family will read and enjoy remembrances of one of the bravest, kindest and most dedicated leaders of the civil rights movement. I am honored to be able to put forth more of his story although I am sure that there is far more to tell.

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  3. HENRY SULLIVAN JR says:

    MY NAME IS HENRY L SULLIVAN AND I SERVED 11 DAYS IN JAIL WITH MAJOR IN SHREVEPORT, LA. WE WERE 11 OF US WERE ARRESTED ON JULY 20TH, 1963 IN WOOLWORTH STORE. I HAD JUST FINISHED HIGH SCHOOL AND WAS 17 AT TH TIME. I AM NOW 67.

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    • Maria Gitin says:

      Dear Henry, You are definitely among the heroes of the Shreveport Movement. Do you also recall Dan Harrell who worked with Major Johns there? They were both in their mid-twenties and working with SCLC and CORE. I would love to hear more of your memories.Please feel free to write them here. Thank you!

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