Joyce Johnson: "A place of truth to stand"

These quotes are drawn from the third and final Public Hearings of the Greensboro Truth & Reconciliation Commission. Biographical information was contributed by the speakers, and is taken from the Hearings program. Speakers addressed this topic: "What does the past have to do with the present and the future?"

Joyce Johnson, director of the Jubilee Institute of Greensboro's Beloved Community Center and wife of the Rev. Nelson Johnson since 1969. A mother, grandmother and activist, she has worked for black liberation in the United States and Africa, quality public education, economic justice and women's rights. She retired in 2000 after 27 years of service to N.C. A&T State University, where she was director of the Transportation Institute. A native of Richmond, VA, she graduated from Duke University in 1968.

"I'm here today because I want my grandchildren to have a place of truth to stand."

"My experiences and memories of growing up in a poor, black, uneducated family in Richmond, Virginia, where my family toiled as maids, janitors, workers at American Tobacco Factory, Philip-Morris, lumberyards, the Albemarle Paper Company that took up stakes and moved...they removed the smell, but left more than that when my eldest uncle, who helped sustain the family, had no severance pay - forced from one job to another as that company moved to the right-to-work state of North Carolina. I wanted to fix those things for my family, and for others like us. I became active in high school, going to marches to City Hall, walking from my side of town on the South Side across the James River to downtown Richmond, because I did not have bus fare money."

"What started for me as just wanting to help black people grew into wanting to help all people who were oppressed by unfair structures, prejudices, and practices. In that quest, I have studied and practiced many trends and ideologies, but all of my quests were about making my community a safe and vibrant place to live."

"I remember the horror I experienced when I learned that folks were killed. I assumed that that included Nelson. I remember the pain of telling Sandi's mother that she was dead, and hearing her say in a quiet, grief-stricken voice, 'But Joyce, you promised me that you would take care of my Sandra.'"

"I remember looking for my children, and calling my parents to say that we were alive. I knew they would probably see this on TV. I recall fleeing to the house of Nelson's and my best friend and big brother, Lewis Brandon, who sheltered us and our daughters, and has continued to do so to this day. I remember receiving Mark Smith, Sandi's estranged husband, who came over from UNC-Chapel Hill medical school and fell into my arms and sobbed that Sandi was dead because they were not together. He blamed himself."

"I remember community people coming forth with food, offers to physically protect us, offers for prayers; my friends from Richmond, Virginia calling to help, friends from all around the country. I remember my brother-in-law picking up our children to make sure that they were safe, and keeping them in Winston in his home."

"I remember driving around crying, singing Christian songs from my youth, and movement songs from Sweet Honey in the Rock... screaming, praying for my friends and my husband. I remember calling Dr. B to go see about Nelson -- he had been stabbed, and I feared that he would be killed in jail. I remember wiping my tears to try to comfort Signe, Floris, or Dale. I remember standing with Marty and Sally as they agonized about the lives of Mike and Paul. I remember worrying about the well-being of another sister, little sister Chekesha, Frankie Powell, who had been shot with buckshot while eight months pregnant."

"I called out to God for His protection, and I prayed for strength to deal with whatever lay ahead for us. I continue to do so to this day."

"After November 3rd, folk who had known us for years were afraid to get too close. They had no less respect for us, most of them, they simply feared being killed like our friends were... We understood, though it was very painful."

"People who got close were fired or questioned. People who came by to bring food after the funeral march, for example, were questioned by their supervisors the next day. They were told if they associated with us, they would jeopardize their own welfare."

"We had tight relationships before 1979 with local universities, churches, social institutions, minority businesses. After November 3rd, however, many of these people feared openly speaking with us, or speaking out about what had happened to us. And we know that many of them were visited by police officers and FBI agents. Even folk who were at the march or on their way, or planned to participate in the educational conference, began to deny it. It was just too dangerous."

"Whereas Greensboro had a vibrant history of social activism, people became afraid to march, afraid to speak out, afraid to be killed."

"We in the CWP were black, we were white, we were Chicano, we were Asian. We were recent immigrants, we were native-born Americans, we were native Hawaiians. Some of us had a little money and were rich; some of us were poor. Most of us were young intellectuals who brought our communities together. Our national meetings were held in several languages; this was before 1980. We didn't realize how powerful we were."

"The CWP had a racial and economic analysis that was far too true. There is now even more separation among the races, religions, etc. There is now even more of a downturn in the well-being of the working class and increasingly the middle class in this country... There is an increase in repression, setbacks in civil and human rights, the rights of minorities and women, increasing tensions all around; and God help you if you are gay in this country."

"I grew up poor; but the sense of being able to move ahead, of being valued, was higher than it is now... I think it's worse in numbers, and I think it's worse in terms of the attitude, the spirit that this nation - that comes from our leadership, our elected leadership, so we have to take responsibility for it. Yet, in the hearts of the American people, I see so much that's good. And that's part of the hope that I have for this process."

"Just the fact that you exist, and you exist because citizens pulled you together and said, 'we want to look at a better way for our city', gives hope for me and other people in this city and I think around the world."

"For those who are moved to continue to cast negative remarks at the old CWP, I forgive them. And I ask forgiveness from them for some of the things I or others might have done in the past. I urge us all now to bind together to address the great divides that Katrina has revealed, and that are widening each day."

"There are many verses in the Bible that show that all is connected, all is one. My life, my experiences certainly attest to that... and I'm appreciative of the testimony from those who oppose us, those who criticize us, and those who support us in this quest for reconciliation based on truth, forgiveness, and restorative justice."

"I believe that we're starting something new in this city, where the people get together, hear our differences, acknowledge our shortcomings - big and small - and resolve to move forward to a better city for all of us."

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