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