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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWEE: Earl Johnson
INTERVIEWER: Michele Degni
October 10, 1975
D: ...voter registration here in Jacksonville. First of all I would
like to ask you what year did you first register to vote?
J: In Florida?
J: I would imagine that would have been '52, '53.
D: Is that the time you first came here?
J: I date my time from then, yes.
D: You were in Washington before that, is that correct?
J: In '52 yes I was in undergraduate school at Howard University, and I
married in 1952. Maybe I did not register then; it may have been in
"57 after law school. I am not sure.
D: Were you ever turned down when you applied to register to vote?
J: No sir.
D: Had voter registration drives been held in this area during the period
when you first began running for office?
D: During what periods were these drives held?
J: What do you mean by period?
D: Do you remember a specific year? Were there a lot of drives held in
the mid '60s or early '60s?
J: There were a number of voter registration drives during the period
'58 through, well, I do not know when they were discontinued. But
they were a fairly regular thing throughout the '60s, and through
the time of the consolidation of our government here. I do not recall
any drive as such except during the election season after 1968.
D: I see. Who sponsored these drives up to 1968?
J: The NAACP branches have usually been involved in registration drives.
So have the Voter Education Project of the Southern Regional Council.
I think these have been the two principal sources.
D: How successful were these voter registration drives generally?
J: I doubt that they have been very successful. I am sure they have
put on some voters, and they may have served to remind folks to re-
register in those instances where they have lost voting rights for
failure to reregister. But I do not think that there was anything
spectacular about any of them. The earlier ones in the early '60s,
during a time of demonstrations when activism was more prevalent,
provably had more success than the latter ones.
D: But do you feel after that period most blacks who wanted to reregis-
ter were probably registered?
J: Well, I do not know that I feel that; I think that the fact of the
matter is that the latter efforts were less successful than those
earlier ones. I suspect that those going on at the time of the
Civil Rights Act, '64, '65, may have had some better successes than
either their predecessors or those which were undertaken later. I
do not have any numbers to give you, and I am just talking off the
top of my head.
D: Are there any things which prevent blacks from registering to vote
in this area?
J: I am not aware of anything that prevents a black from registering
D: I have just a brief checklist which has some items on it which in
some areas prevent blacks from registering to vote. We would like
to have you, if you would, just check on this whether you feel each
of those factors is very important, fairly important, or not import-
ant at all in terms of preventing blacks from registering to vote.
First of all, economic dependence on whites.
J: You want it checked in pen?
D: No, whatever you have. We would like to have you comment just
briefly on each one while you are checking whether it is very im-
portant, fairly important, or not important at all.
J: I doubt that economic dependence on whites is a significant factor
in keeping blacks from registering to vote. I do not know what else
to call it on that; I do not think it is very important. And I do
not think that fear of physical violence is any factor at all. Com-
plicated registration forms are probably not important, though I
would, if you had a different scale here, I would give it more credit
than I would the earlier ones. But I cannot say that it is fairly
important; I do not think it is.
D: In some cases, we have had black officials tell us that some blacks
have trouble reading some of the forms and in that sense.
J: There are some, but I do not think that that is significant. I do
not think it is fair to say that it is fairly important as a preven-
tive device in this area. Now that may be truer in some places.
J: And I have also checked as fairly important the indifference of blacks
to voting. (phone rings) I do not know how you are going to handle
the phone, but you are going to have these periodic interruptions.
D: In some places they are obviously purging from the rolls people who
have not voted within a certain period, like ten years. Has that been
a problem at all in terms of the black community?
J: Well, it is certainly some problem, though I do not know that it is
that much more of a problem with blacks than whites. I suppose if you
consider the difference in the educational level of blacks you would
have to assume that they fare worse by purge than others, and I sup-
pose their economic condition and other relevant criteria would sug-
gest that necessarily they would suffer more by a purge than would
D: Uu huh.
J: Now, I guess the answer to your question would have to be, yes, if
anybody suffers more, it would be blacks. And I do not think people
are aware of the purge.
D: I would like to ask you a little bit about your election campaigns
here in Jacksonville. First of all, were you able to campaign freely,
that is, were you in any way threatened or harassed when you campaigned?
J: No, I have not been threatened, I have not been harassed. There are
of course traditional southern whites who paid me no attention and
who may receive a brochure and quickly dispose of it without consid-
ering it. I do not suppose you call that harassment. I have not
been bothered by anybody.
D: You have never received any threatening phone calls of any sort?
J: Oh, I have received threatening phone calls, but not recently, and
not during the last several races. I ran first in '62 at a time
when I had no inkling I could win; it was just running to be running
for the county commission. I had some vague recollection that there
were threats then, but since then I do not have any recollection of
D: Were you ever handicapped by a lack of campaign money?
D: Always? Where did you get your support? Was it primarily money
that you put in, or did you get help from say, the party?
J: No, I have gotten help from the party, from people, from the voters,
and chamber of commerce types primarily have been the source of my
support. Churches in the black community have usually helped me.
D: Uh huh.
J: I have made my own contributions, but primarily, my support has come
from voters and from those persons I described.
D: You said you were handicapped, though, by a lack of campaign money.
J: Because it is a matter of how much. I can always use a little more
to buy a television, radio and this sort of thing. My campaigns
have usually been fairly well funded, however, and I have had good
support. I have not lost any. I have now three times been elected
countywide to the council. Before that I lost a legislative race
and then a race for the county commission. I do not think that
money was the reason I lost either of those.
D: Why did you decide to run for office here in Jacksonville?
J: Do you mean in Jacksonville as opposed to someplace else, or why did
I decide to run for office?
D: For the Jacksonville government. I know you ran for the legislature;
I know you ran for the county. Why did you decide to run?
J: Why did I decide to run? Is that what you are asking me? Is that
J: Well, lawyers are sort of traditionally regarded as potential poli-
ticians. I guess that we have some training which prepares you for
that sort of involvement. Black lawyers are even more likely to get
involved in that as a natural thing, I think. They are usually more
informed than other blacks. They are better prepared for the politi-
cal process. They are just more likely to be involved in it than
other blacks. You are in a minority and I found myself almost having
to do it, as a matter of fact, not so much as a matter of choice, but
as a matter of time and circumstance. I was the person who should
run at the time I had run, as a coincidence of a number of things.
D: Were there a number of blacks in the community who asked you to?
J: Yes, and whites.
D: And whites? You are a member of the Democratic party.
D: Are the elections in Jacksonville partisan or non-partisan?
J: They are partisan.
D: You did receive some help from the Democratic party?
D: What were the two or three most important issues on which you cam-
J: At which time are you talking about?
D: Let's start with--I think you were first elected in '67?
J: That is right.
D: So starting with then.
J: Of course the issue then was one issue, essentially, and that was
consolidation. I had been involved in the study of the new govern-
ment as secretary to the local government study commission, and was
regarded as one of the "white hats." So then I had the support of
the chamber and others who urged me to take on one of the council's
at-large seats. Well they though that because of my involvement and
my professional reputation, that I could probably garner sufficient
white votes to win a seat. There was a committee of people who were
involved in the consolidation effort that wanted to make certain
that "consolidaters" were the type of people elected to public office
so that you could at least see through the nurturing of a new govern-
ment in its early years, without having to run the risk of competi-
ton and, and fighting the old regime. But that was how I came to be
involved in that first one.
I guess the first re-election had to do with a vote of confidence, as
it were, in that consolidated effort. So that was an issue after the
first four years, whether we returned to office--those folk who shep-
herded the government--and I guess it was a vote as I say, of confi-
dence in the government.
This last time, I do not know what the issues were exactly, except
that I do not think they were that important in my race. If it was
white versus white, the issue may be a little more meaningful than
in the races which I run against whites. I think that in the mind's
eye of a lot of white folk, what they want to do is to keep in office
what they conceive to be an intelligent, moderate, black.
D: Uh huh.
J: I suppose my experience and credentials are an issue in the mind's
eye of some of them. My experience and my credentials are usually
superior to most of my opponents. That is just a fact. And that
has been meaningful to a number of them. As far as the black voters
are concerned, I think it is hardly arguable; the only issue is that
I am black. And I would have to be pretty bad for them not to vote
for me. I do not think we could afford the luxury of voting against
me. Yet, out of some notion of fairness or whatever you want to
call it, there is still too few blacks in politics for blacks to
vote for a white opponent otherwise qualified.
D: Have you ever had any black opponents?
J: Yes, I had one this time as a matter of fact who drew very little
black vote. But he was there. Why and how he got in, I do not know,
but he was there.
D: In terms of these issues which you mentioned, primarily consolidation,
do you think these issues were the main problems facing blacks in the
J: Well, consolidation has never been the main problem facing blacks.
Their status under law, and economically, and in terms of basic
human rights, has always been the main issue of blacks and will be
for a long time in the future. Consolidation is, and has been, an
issue only insofar as it relates to those problems, and whether it is
likely to increase of diminish their equal opportunity. Insofar as
consolidation seemed to affect their voting strength in the community,
obviously it was an issue. And the question whether consolidation
meant more professional approach to government and an extension of
public service obviously has to be an issue for blacks.
D: I have just a few questions about your elections and voting. How
many people are there in Jacksonville, since you are elected at
J: I am not sure what the number is. Every time I hear it, I hear a dif-
ferent figure; I think it is somewhere around 570,000. That is the
countywide population which is the city of Jacksonville. Now it de-
pends on what you use the numbers for; for some purposes you would
have to exclude the former urban services districts, the other town-
ships--Baldwin and the beach cities. Even excluding those, I sup-
pose our population would be somewhere in the neighborhood of half
D: What percent of the population is black?
J: That is another figure which has been variously described as twenty-
three percent and twenty-six point six percent, or something. I think
the Civil Rights Commission says twenty-six point six percent. I
thought that the population ratio was more nearly twenty-three per-
cent. I think that is the figure we have used for...
D: Did the 1970 census figures...
J: I think the census figure has been more nearly twenty-three percent,
though I am not sure.
X: The last one that I read was twenty-six percent.
J: I think it is probably more nearly twenty-three percent.
D: About what percent of blacks of voting age in Jacksonville are reg-
istered to vote?
J: I do not know.
D: Do you have an estimate?
J: I do not have any facts, very frankly. I suppose I should have, and
I just do not. And I do not think I ought to give you a number.
D: About what percentage of blacks who are registered to vote do you
estimate actually voted when you were elected each time?
J: I imagine it is somewhere between twenty-five and thirty percent of
registered blacks have voted. Did you say for me or, or voted,
D: That just voted. I was going to ask you what percent voted for you.
J: That figure has declined from somewhere around ninety-eight percent
in the first of these elections to I guess it is around ninety per-
cent. Somewhere between eighty-five and ninety percent.
D: Why is that? Is that because you had a black opponent in the last
election or are there other reasons?
J: Well, I think the figures this time would reflect the couple thousand
votes the other black gained. I think the drop is natural and if you
serve, somebody dislikes you, for some reason, and someone will vote
against you, or not vote for you. Now I know it can be just the
knowledge of you will be enough to get somebody to vote against you
or not to vote for you, so it changes. I do not know if there is
D: What percent of your total vote came from whites in the last election?
J: Well, in this last election we had 50,000 votes. We have not really
analyzed it since then so that if I guess, I guess seventy percent of
it was white.
D: How many opponents did you have each time you ran?
J: A crowd.
D: A crowd is how many?
J: I usually draw Democrats and Republicans. I think this time we
started out with four or five Democratic opponents, and a Republican
opponent. That is about the average.
D: What percent of the total vote did you get?
J: Percentage of the total vote? Well, out of about 85,000 votes cast
in the general election, I got 50,000 plus. Whatever that percent-
age is; it is just under sixty percent.
D: So you won the runoff by...
J: In the general elections, this was a runoff. This is the general.
I had a first primary election against four Democratic opponents,
and our second primary against one Democratic opponent, and then
the general election against a Republican. The figure I just gave
you was the general election against the Republican.
D: We would like to ask you now some questions to determine how well
black officials in Florida are able to benefit those that they
represent. [phone rings] The first question here is how well you
have been able to benefit those you represent. I wanted to ask you
in what ways do you think you have helped blacks in Jacksonville by
J: You ought to ask some of the blacks.
D: Eventually we hope to go into six or eight communities.
J: Usually when you ask that question you want me to list seriatim
things done which does not answer that question really. If that
question solicits me to enumerate pieces of legislation beneficial
to blacks that have been introduced in the past, then obviously no
black in the South will be able to count that much, in terms of
legislation. I do not recall one piece of legislation which had to
do with requiring persons who contracted with the city to implement
a policy of non-discrimination; that could be said to be legisla-
tion dealing specifically with blacks. Obviously not much of that
kind of legislation is ever going to pass, and has not in the past,
Apart from that, the only contribution of a black politician to the
legislative process has more to do with making certain that ser-
vices to streets and highways and recreational facilities, and that
sort of thing gets to the people who need them the most, first. It
is our job, I hope, to see that some sense of priority is main-
tained by the government. If it does, if it functions professionally,
then the people who need those services most ought to get them first,
so that we can sit and listen to the mayor, the administration pro-
gram, and the delivery of services, to make certain that they are
not cheating on blacks. I have a notion that at least in Jacksonville
they are not getting cheated in terms of our priority. That is to
say that the streets which need repair most are probably getting those
repairs, although there may be some divergence from that. The people
who need recreational facilities are probably getting them first, and
there may be some divergence from that. It does not mean that some
white district may not be getting a tennis court that it probably
ought not to get or some boat landing that probably is not the thing
that we ought to first afford. But by and large, I think that in a
sense, services are getting where they ought to get on the basis of
the priority. That is not something you can point to as an accom-
plishment of a black politician. But it is the presence of black
politicians and the legislative and the political process which se-
cures that sort of extension of public service on the basis of
X: I tried to follow a bit about the Brentwood golf purchase. How did
you feel about the veto and the council's sustaining the veto in the
golf purchase, and if that is something that would have benefited
the black community to as great an extent as some people believed.
J: Well I am personally of the opinion that that 129 acres or whatever
it is, ought never be used for any purpose other than a recreation-
related purpose. There are entirely too many people there to permit
it to be used for industry; any form of it, would be obnoxious to
the area and to the people there. I do not think it ought to be
ever used for any purpose except in a recreation-related purpose.
If that is a valid judgment, then we are talking ultimately about
public ownership, the city acquiring it, one way or another, and the
question then becomes whether acquiring it then and for that price
was reasonable. [interruption to answer phone] Where are we?
X: I think that he had commented sufficiently on that.
J: What I am saying is that I am convinced in my own mind that the city
ought not let that land be used for anything other than recreation.
That may or may not mean "golf course"; the price of $700,000 is not
unrealistic. I think that a large part of the opposition was not
that the purchase price was that bad or out of line, but that some
persons were loathe to see the owners of the property get the finan-
cial advantage that they would obviously gain. It just came out good
on the bargain, as far as I am concerned, it should not matter who
gets some good profit out of it, if we were going to do what we had
to do, ultimately.
If they are successful in winning their losses on appeal, then the
land is worth at least twice what we were going to pay for it. We
would never lose, if we ever decided that we had to dispose of the
land for some reason or another. I do not think there is any legal
principle that would have precluded our doing it, ultimately, if we
found that we could not use it for our recreational purposes. So, I
do not think that really $700,000 was that bad a price for it, and I
do not think we should run the risk of not being able to maintain it
as recreational land. For that reason I voted for it.
X: Thank you.
D: What, if anything, has prevented you from doing a better job, espe-
cially in regard to benefitting blacks?
J: Do you assume that I have not been doing...what do you mean by
D: No, I said what, if anything, any reason. Do you feel that actually
nothing has prevented you?
J: Well, certainly being in a minority on a nineteen-member council is
an impediment. If you have got three blacks of nineteen councilmen,
then obviously they cannot pass legislation. We can influence legis-
lation and we can influence the thinking of councilmen, and that is
essentially what we are about at this juncture of the political pro-
cess. That is, making the government more empathetic. If I have
done anything at all, I think that is what I have done. I have made
councilmen, department heads, and others in this government be more
empathetic about the needs of people. If you can accomplish that,
if you can get that done, I think professionalism is what happens,
and then prejudice is diminished, favoritism diminished, and the
government functions more professionally.
That is what you want, ultimately, and I suppose, is that all you can
get, a government that functions professionally. If it does that
then, the blacks and whites become less important and it is the mat-
ter of extending services where they ought to go, which is important.
So I have always conceived it to be Earl Johnson's primary function
to make the people who ultimately had to see to it that things got
done, go about getting it done professionally. That generally means
without influence, basis, prejudice, favoritism or other things. As
one man, there really is not much more you can do.
D: [phone rings] We again have another short checklist here of items
which in some cases have prevented blacks from doing a better job,
or so they feel. I would like you to comment briefly and check each
J: The office has no real authority; it, of course, does have real
authority to be councilmen.
D: So you should feel that is not important in terms of Jacksonville?
J: Outvoted by white officials is of course very important. That as-
sumes that the issue is strictly a black-white issue.
D: I assume that there may have been some issues which were interpreted
J: There are always some issues which are more important for blacks
than whites. Certainly in the police-community relations-type
issues it is frequently the case. And we black public officials are
very likely to look differently from perhaps a majority of the white
An example of that would be in the question for us now how to achieve
some sense of balance in the police force. There is now a very con-
siderable disparity with one of twenty policemen being black. I
think that is what the figure is. Obviously that is not a tolerable
statistic, and also, equally obviously, even if you want to do some-
thing about it, then you must find compensatory ways to do it. You
cannot keep doing what you have been doing all the while and expect
to change the statistic. That is just common sense. This means you
are going to have to do some out of the ordinary things. Tradition-
ally, a white counterpart of mine did not feel that they ought to
have to anything out of the ordinary, that they ought to just pro-
nounce the law and let time cure the problem. On that sort of issue,
obviously, there is going to be a black vote for and or against, and
the white vote the other way.
D: In cases like that, you obviously felt that being outvoted by whites
was a real hindrance.
J: No question about that. There must be comparable issues where I
would pretty much do away with the civil service system or at least
the system of testing which is exclusionary, and never had any inten-
tion to include, really. Whites would not understand what I think I
understand to be the white collar intention of the civil service sys-
tem, which in the first place, was not to include people in the work
force who were otherwise includable, but to limit the class of per-
sons employed to those nice white students who are able to get out of
high school and maybe out of the good white high schools and be in-
cluded in the work force. But no intentional employer for the civil
service system was to include blacks; for example, because the natural
effect of that system is to exclude them. In any event, that is an-
other sort of an issue which I think would always draw the black-
white vote and blacks would lose.
On the next one, not enough revenue available, that is of course
fairly important. Blacks have so far to go in terms of everything,
especially now with money tight. The chances of our doing some of
the things that blacks need to have done have diminished. I put
fairly important there as opposed to very important, but it may be
Unfamiliar with the administrative duties? I do not think that is
Lack of cooperation from whites, is probably fairly important,
though I cannot say that I have a bad experience personally with my
white counterparts. I do not mean to say that by checking it fairly
Lack of cooperation from blacks is probably not important. Though
it might, as a matter of fact, be somewhere between not important and
D: In what cases have you lacked cooperation from blacks?
J: Well, I suppose recruitment efforts generally to get blacks in the
police force, fire department, and this sort of thing, or to get them
to go take a test for this or that. I understand why they are re-
luctant to do it, but despite this reluctance, I think there may be
some obligation to confront the system which disadvantages them.
D: Why are they reluctant?
J: For all the traditional reasons which you know as well as me. The
testing is not something that blacks like; they do not like to be
tested in the perspective of the white culture by non-valid criteria,
and that is traditional. In the past they have been reluctant to go
downtown to the establishment to be examined for the establishment's
employment. It would take me the rest of the afternoon to get into
that one because that is an old philosophical thing that a...[inter-
rupted by ringing of the phone].
I think [cooperation from local, state, and] federal officials is
probably fairly important too.
D: Comment on those three. In what sense is there a lack of cooperation
from state, federal...
J: Well, the congress has not all the empathy it might about the prob-
lems of blacks. Local communities have not all of the enabling
legislation they would need to get into local programs which would
bnenfit blacks and bridge the gap economically in police-community
relations, fire departments, and that sort of thing. I am talking
in generalizations because I at the moment do not think of anything
more specific. I am sure that if I had the time and were looking
for it, I would find you a number of specifics.
There are things that the congress could do to help us locally, to
divert funds, revenue sharing monies, and others more directly to
the black community than is now the case. And certainly the LEAA
monies which come from the state through the local government. LEAA
could enforce the expenditure of those monies in such a way that
they benefitted blacks, at least in terms of hiring more blacks.
That is one clear example. The fact that we only have five percent
blacks on the police force violates LEAA standards, and the LEAA is
not doing anything about it. I do not anticipate they will. That
is an example of lack of cooperation by federal officials. They
ought to be enforcing that; they are spending millions of the federal
money in the LEAA program; they ought to make sure that their guide-
lines are adhered to.
D: Has that been raised as an issue with LEAA?
J: It is being raised now by the Florida advisory commission. But the
typically federal revenue funds are not traced to see that they are
broadly [phone rings] used and that sanitary sewage is available in
the black community. Go some places [and] there are.some more spec-
tacular examples than that in communities in Jacksonville, because we
do have more involvement of black people in the political structure.
Take a place like Lake City, which I frequently visit or Live Oak.
In Lake City I do not think you will find the first street paved in
the black [neighborhoods, and] I do not think they have any sanitary
sewage at all. As far as I know, they are still using the outhouses.
Same thing is true of Live Oak, though Live Oak is a little differ-
ent. It is agrarian and the people are farmers, essentially. But
there is no question in my mind, whether it is the federal government
tracing its federal revenue money, the situation it obtained there
would not...there just is not any question about it. Same thing
Dt I have a couple of questions about the problem of lack of cooperation
from blacks and whites. I would like to ask you first of all, has
criticism or lack of support from the black community to any great
extent...you mentioned a couple things in terms of blacks not cooper-
ating recruitment. Were there any other ways that you feel that
either criticism or lack of support from blacks has been a problem?
J: Well, not a problem. I,...criticism, or what did you say?
D: Or lack of support.
J: Well, I have got examples of lack of support; no others occur to me
at the moment. I cannot see how criticism would impede me. I do not
understand what you are asking about criticism.
J: If I am criticized by blacks it would not preclude my doing whatever
I could do in any event.
D: Okay. How...
J: That I can see.
D: Do you feel that you are criticized by blacks to any great extent?
J: I am frequently criticized. I am frequently criticized because I am
not as vocal as blacks would like to have me be. Of course I have
said to blacks, "They would have to decide whether they would like to
have me beat, or whether they would like to have me be vocal. They
cannot have them both." So long as I am running county-wide to a
constituency which is seventy-seven percent white, or whatever it is,
for me to take some of the stances they would have me take means
that they no longer have me. Now that is just a practical fact and
they have to make a judgment whether they would have me nudge the
system from within it or come back out here and soothe the city as I
frequently did. I am amenable to that, if that is the people's
choice. I think they are better off with having me do what I can as
quietly as I can. In my own way, I am satisfied that I enjoy the
respect of a lion's share of the people in this town. And that from
where I am, I can get some things done without talking about it and
without making a speech every time there is a council meeting. I am
now the vice-president of the council. I suppose that makes me heir-
apparent to the council, which is the number two position, for every
politician in the city. That is not a bad place for blacks to have
a black be, even though he is quiet. Now, I could not be here or
there next year, and perhaps the mayor, four years from now. At
least there are those who think that is a probability, if I took the
path that some would have me take, and that is a judgment I have to
make. I think I would make the same one if I were to run again.
D: Do you feel that white officials, at least at first, treated you dif-
ferently from other officials? That is, did they consider you a
spokesman, to a degree, for the black community only able to raise
J: Well, I think that there was similar thinking, in my case, though
not as much as would have been true of some others. I am not from a
black district; I am countywide and I think that my professional
background and my experience are such that I am looked to for some-
thing other than just solutions to black problems, although I am
surprised that I still find a lot of that. I have not been the
technician that some councilmen have expected me to be, for a number
of reasons. I guess the answer to your question is yes and no.
There still is a lot of thinking that Earl Johnson is a source for
solutions to traditional black problems, and I guess that is what I
ought to be in a large measure. But then I am also expected to make
D: We have just one last checklist form here which deals with service
areas. We would like to have you rate yourself in terms of how ef-
fective you feel you have been in each of the following service areas.
J: Find out what an egoist I am, huh?
D: [Laughs] This is in terms of helping the black community. Now some
of these you have already commented on. 'Others you have not, and we
would appreciate at least a brief comment. Some of these may also
not apply, obviously, like education.
J: I do not know how really to deal with the questions as the form re-
quires. I suppose I have been somewhat effective in each category.
D: Could you...
J: For all of the reasons we have been talking about for an hour. Not
because I have introduced a bill requiring the police to do anything
or not to do anything, because there is not much in the way of a
piece of legislation addressed to a black police problem that I could
introduce. [Phone rings.] I mean when you think about it, I do not
know what sort of legislation, what kind of legislation could I in-
troduce to solve the problem of police brutality toward blacks?
Police power is a matter of state law, not municipal law. The sher-
iff is a constitutional officer of the state. I do not know what
legislation I have introduced. I do help with the appropriation of
funds for those crimes which victimize blacks most, or in which
blacks participate most, drugs. And I guess blacks, because of their
status, are involved in most of it, more than anybody else. So that
I suppose I have been somewhat effective in steering money to those
programs of that nature, I suppose. Programs like drug abuse pro-
grams which are rehabilitative in their nature. [Phone rings.]
D: You checked each of these as being...
J: Somewhat effective. I would include education. For a part of about
ten years as a councilman, education has been, at least to the extent
of budgetary review, within our jurisdiction. It is not now. We do
not have a thing to do with it now, but even despite that, as a coun-
cilman you are an elected public official. I am elected countywide;
so when I call the school board member, he is likely to consider what
I say. So that if some lady just called me about the present super-
intendent, and I told him, "There is a move afoot to get rid of him.
I think he is just being shafted. I think he will be; it is not a
new effort; it started some time ago and I think but for my efforts
and those of my wife, he might not be here now." So that we were
able to buy him some time. So that that is an aspect of influence,
for whatever that is worth, that comes from my being where I am.
D: How about some of these other areas, streets and roads, in terms of
paving, improvements, and so on?
J: Well, I am not a district councilman. Normally, a guy who is from a
district will worry about this or that street, or this or that
streetlight. I am glad I am not a district councilman, because I do
not like to worry about a pothole on Ninth Street. I like to think
of my concern as more countywide. I am concerned in legislation and
in efforts which are calculated to benefit the people, generally, not
just one district. To that extent, I have not been involved in see-
ing to it that district seven got streets. I hope I have been in-
volved in seeing to it that the countywide streets and highways pro-
gram, was one calculated to bring the street paving where it ought
to go, first. I am concerned in priorities and I do not think I
have ever asked anybody about paving a particular street, frankly,
and I hope I do not. I hope I am not called upon to do that. But in
reviewing the budgets of the Department of Public Works, I will
scrutinize as best I can, to see that it appears that the unpaved
areas of the community seem to be favored. If I get that general
impression, I am not likely to pursue it; the district councilman
likely will. I mean he has got people calling him every day saying,
"Look. Something is wrong over there, and there is a pothole in the
street in front of me, or there needs to be a streetlight on this
corner because it is a high crime thing," uh, something of that sort.
I like to see revenue money routed in such a way that it benefits
everybody as opposed to somebody in the north or the south or the
east or the west.
D: I guess that is probably true in some of these other areas as well as
D: How about employment of blacks?
J: Well, I am involved in that from my legal practice more so than from
the council. The council cannot really be involved in that; it is a
civil service thing and I had been involved in the nomination and
helped to see to the employment of blacks in non-traditional jobs.
For example, right at consolidation, the first head of the Division
of Motor Pool was a black man, whose appointment involved some
effort on my part. We contrived to have some blacks in that sort of
slot, and there have been some others. So we have been somewhat ef-
fective in seeing to it that some blacks got consideration for
department-level positions. There was a black in personnel; he is
not there now. There is a black now who is Action Officer, a woman.
There have been other blacks throughout the government in more
responsible positions than was the case before black politicians and
before consolidation, at least. We saw to it that blacks were, at
least in a token way, on every board of the city and every agency of
the city over which the council and the mayor had exclusive dominion.
The electric authority, for example, has a black member; hospital
authority and the other agencies and authorities of the government
have blacks on them. That was not the case before blacks were in pol-
itcs or on the council. So in those ways, we influence what goes on.
D: I think you have commented on most of these other areas. Have you
actively solicited and gotten federal funds that seem to dispropor-
tionally benefit the black community?
J: I have not.
D: Have you as an elected official or even as part of a local committee
been able to bring industry or retail stores into this area?
J: Well, yes, I have been a part of the effort of get offshore nuclear
power systems here, for example, which would have an extraordinary
economic impact on the area. I was one of a team that went to
Tallahassee, to talk to the congress, to let us close a river to
accommodate their construction effort. I am ex officio of the chamber
and have been involved in the downtown redevelopment plans. To that
extent, yes, I and the other blacks have been involved in efforts to
D: How about federal revenue sharing? Has this been used to help
blacks in certain areas with some of the service areas that we have
J: Most of the federal revenue money coming to us since the inception
of that plan has not been used specifically for blacks. First, some
of the money that we received was given entirely to our water-sewer
program. Now, except insofar as that benefits blacks more than any-
body else, if that is the case, the answer would be no. I suspect
that our program for acquisition of small utilities and for water
treatment and construction of sewage treatment facilities, that all
of these programs may benefit blacks ultimately as much as anybody,
since blacks have had less in the way of sufficient water-sewer
facilities than anybody. That is an indirect thing; none of it went
straight into the black community.
I am sure that some of that revenue money which has gotten into more
social programs has, and in the nature of things, benefitted blacks
more, in neighborhood development programs, for example. Certainly
some of the monies may not be revenue sharing monies that come
through--the HUD programs, community redevelopment, and this sort of
thing have benefitted blacks more. Funds coming to us under the
auspices of the community action agency may benefit blacks more, cer-
tainly in terms of employment opportunity. In executive-type posi-
tions, there has been an effort to hire blacks over whites who are
not employed. A lot of the service rendered by that community action
agency obviously goes into the black community. That is where it is
needed most. To that extent, yes, some of it has, but...
D: Have there been any black protests, or sit-ins, boycotts, or riots
in Jacksonville for the last ten years?
J: Yes, I guess in '64, '65 we were sitting-in at hotels, restaurants,
and everything around here. I do not recall when the last of these
took place. [Sound garbled--microphone touched or moved.] I have
some vague recollection of some picketing, some post-civil rights
bill picketing of some places which were reluctant to adhere to the
law. For the most part, I think that, at least in Jacksonville it
was the end of that sort of demonstration. There had been all sorts
of demonstrations prior to ten years you mentioned in '65.
D:. Yes. Were there any riots here in '67?
J: More recent than '67, we had riots that tore up Florida Avenue
three years ago, I believe.
X: I believe that was the incident where that young black boy was shot...
J: Yes, was shot and Florida Avenue was burned, and virtually destroyed.
X: He was shot by a policeman, wasn't he?
J: Yes. So there have been riots. This is an area where a riot can
be had, and they usually do not take a hell of a lot to get started;
there is a good complement of blacks. There is also a good comple-
ment of poor enraged blacks, so that whenever they want to have one,
they can get one here; it does not take a hell of a lot.
D: What do you see or perceive as the effects of these protests and
J: Well, in retrospect, you wonder what would have happened if they had
not had the riots. I mean, it is perhaps a sad comment on the capac-
ity of us to change. They served as a catalyst for change, for the
implementation of procedures for accommodating the need of people who
were out of the structure, and out of the system. That is just a
fact. That they make us do things that we ought to do.
I do not know why it ought to be strange that that is so, for evo-
lution always does that. By this I mean many revolutions; I sup-
pose there is a conflagration on Florida Avenue, somebody does
something about whatever the causes were. There is not so much you
can do about a cop shooting a boy, you know that. But if somehow law
committed it, somebody addresses that law. I think the answer has
to be that, yes, riot does cause folk to think about the other prob-
lems which caused the riot, and they address them.
D: In terms of Florida politics, more generally, what is your opinion of
Governor Ruebin Askew?
J: I think he could be President of the United States if he decided he
wanted to be. I think he could be the only southerner since the
time of the thirteen colonies that could actually get to be President
of the United States. That is what I think about Askew. I think he
would go in with the entire black populous of the country, and I
think he would go in with the lion's share of the liberals of the
country, to say nothing of having a rather captive southerner vote,
who would vote for him because he is a southerner. I think he has
the best chance to be president, of any assured shot at it than any-
body in the Democratic party, frankly.
D: Are you active in any group?
J: I have never been a political activist. I have just been swept along
in this thing. It is just not in the nature of me; I am not a polit-
ical animal, essentially. But I think that if he wanted to be
President, that he could. He has made all the right moves and I
think he would be hard to beat.
D: Are there any other state officials, cabinet officials, or represen-
tatives that you feel that have been especially favorable in helping
the blacks in the Jacksonville area?
J: I will say no. None come to my mind as having been particularly
helpful to blacks. You are not asking me about the black members
of the legislature because they are the Mary Singletons, but I cannot
think of any black that has done anything that was calculated to help
blacks in particular. It may be that at this moment something is not
occurring to me that ought to. That is just unfortunate, but...
D: Just one last general question we would like to ask you. Do you
think that winning and holding office in Florida has been worth the
J: Yes, it has been worth the effort. I started not to run and my son,
who is nine years old said, "Daddy, if you do not run again they will
not say I am the councilman's son anymore." I get free turkeys in
the mail every Christmas and Thanksgiving [laughs]. It has its
[Both Degni and Johnson start talking and laughing at the same time
and what they are saying becomes too garbled to understand until--]
D: --interviews of this nature.
J: Listen, these are the bad parts.
J: I am not a very good interviewee.
D: On a more serious vein, are you going to run again?
J: For council?
J: No, of course, I just got through running last month.
D: What do you perceive...
J: It is premature to ask; I do not know what I will do next time. I
suspect I am fairly confident that I will not ever run for city coun-
cil again. I do not feel any interest in running for the state
legislature. I will be fifty years old when this term concludes so
that I very likely will take on something more sedentary like a
circuit judgeship, or actually run for mayor, just to see what
would happen. But I am getting old enough now where I would in four
years maybe consider just retiring for a circuit judgeship. I do
not anticipate unless Charlie Bennett [Congressman, 3rd District]
decided to resign or to quit or died, in which event, I would seri-
ously consider running for his seat, though it is not likely.
D: It seems there is more in politics for you than free turkeys, and
that you have enjoyed it. You have been in office for quite a
while and you will be in office longer.
J: I think that I have made a contribution. It may be more intangible
than not, but it is measurable nonetheless in terms of [phone rings]
What was I talking about?
D: You were commenting about what being in office has meant to you.
J: Well, it is an opportunity to make a contribution, at least in
Jacksonville, to change a style of government. I think we have a
fairly professional operation here now. I am satisfied that we did
the right thing with our structure. I sometimes have mixed emotions
about, from my black vantage point, about the consolidation of the
other areas, the other people in town. Now that is something differ-
ent from the structure itself which is a mayor, or a legislative
body getting rid of a county commission and all the rest of this
junk. I think we are streamlined so that we can deal as well as
local government can with urban crises. I am not so sure that if I
were redoing it, I would be anxious to see black strength in the
city diminish as it did with that consolidation. But I have been a
part of that whole effort.
I am not dissatisfied with my role. I think it has meant some advan-
tages to the black and poor white people generally. I think I have
contributed something to the moral fiber of the community. I think
in no small measure has the town taken on some empathy on account of
Earl Johnson. I think if you will ask them, they will say that is so.
I am not crying; [laughs] I had bell's palsey a couple years ago and
this is a lone residual, some tear duct damage I think--it tears.
D: What effect has running for and holding office had on you personally,
and on your family?
J: Everybody knows us. I do not know. I guess I am tolerated where
other blacks might not be. I can, obviously, as any other politician,
do what politicians do. I can call folks and get things done, if
they can get done. They call me mister and they know who my children
are. The same sorts of things, I guess, that happen to anybody who
is known by everybody.
D: Just a last couple of things.
J: I thought that was what you said a couple of minutes ago.
D: [Laughs] These are real quick. Your occupation? You are a lawyer.
The salary you receive from your elected position?
J: What about it?
D: What is the salary you receive?
D: Were you active in the civil rights movement from '60 to '66?
D: In what capacity?
J: Well, I guess I was for a long time the number one civil rights
lawyer in the state. I was attorney of record in every school de-
segregation law suit in this state with the exception of two or
three, and there have been seventeen or eighteen. I was an attorney
for plaintiffs and suits to desegregate hospitals and state parks and
prisons, and that was what I did as a civil rights lawyer.
D: Was this with the NAACP?
J: Well, I cooperated with the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP.
D: What church do you belong to?
J: St. Joseph's Catholic Church.
D: Are you an official in your church?
D: Your father's occupation?
J: He is dead. I do not know what his occupation is along about now.
D: What was he?
J: He was a laborer on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in Huntington,
D: If I may ask your age.
J: I already told you. I will be fifty, four years from now. I will
be forty-seven Monday.
D: Happy Birthday. Thank you; I appreciate it.