Major Johns
(1937 — 1983)


As remembered by Maria Gitin
September 3, 2013

In Memory of Major Johns, 1937-1983. CORE, SCLC, LA, MS, AL.

SCLC field director Major Johns was born and raised in Plaquemine, Louisiana. Johns worked in in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. First with CORE, then on SCLC field staff. In 1960 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 the students were released from jail, Johns made a rousing speech while he and Ronnie Moore stood on a school bus. They and other CORE members organized a walkout and march to the state capitol joined by more than three thousand Southern University students to protest segregation and the arrests of students participating in sit- ins at segregated 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.

[See Baton Rouge Sit-ins & Student Strike for more background.]

CORE published a booklet of their story, It Happened in Baton Rouge as an organizing tool. In 2004, long after John's death, the student civil rights workers were awarded honorary degrees and the Louisiana state legislature passed a resolution in their honor.

According to his younger brother William Johns, After Major was arrested and expelled, the judge gave the expelled students the choice to go to jail or join the Army. So, they forced him into the Army, but true to his beliefs, he served as a Conscientious Objector. When he got out of the Army, he joined the Movement full time." Four years before his death, he achieved his dream of being an ordained as well as a called preacher when he was awarded a Master of Divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Maria Gitin
Excerpt from:
This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Wilcox County Freedom Fight,
University of Alabama Press, 2014.

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