Charles S. Johnson III '70
This interview was recorded as part of Myra Armstead’s 2017 course, Hist 117: Inclusion at Bard, which produced a series of oral histories with alumni/ae of color.
Raised in Dayton, Ohio, Charles S. Johnson III has been dedicated to politics personally, academically, and professionally throughout his life. He came to Bard from a parochial school where his Marianist brothers and teachers encouraged “freedom of inquiry and freedom of expression.” Though he felt prepared intellectually for a Bard education, and was familiar with interracial settings, his adjustment to Annandale was largely cultural: “I remember the first time I met somebody whose parents were not together [at Bard], you know, who was the product of a divorce. That was a shock.” At times, Bard felt like more of an enclave: “It was almost a liberal ghetto in the sense that you didn’t have the same diversity of thought at Bard that you had in places in the midwest.” Considering the right-wing bastion that the Dutchess County area constituted in the sixties and seventies, Charles saw Bard as a relatively safe place: “it was townies versus folks on campus.”
Charles discusses the political attitudes of Bard students during the sixties, largely in reference to the Civil Rights Movement and anti-war student activism. He recalls the moment news broke out about Martin Luther King’s assassination: “people just descended on that location [Sottery Hall] from all over campus to just be together, to try to grasp the magnitude of what was going on and the meaning–I recall being so bitter as to say to somebody, ‘It’s your country’... the shock, it was felt all over the country, it was felt at Bard as well.” In 1968, someone had dismantled the commencement tent the night before the ceremony in protest of the Vietnam War. Another person phoned in a bomb threat day-of. Charles feels “there was always some excitement related to the wider world taking place on campus in the Spring.”
Charles was a witness to many political happenings of his time: “I remember being captivated by the events in Selma and I did some early writing at Bard about that. I grew up around folks who were involved in those activities.” He is also the grandson of sociologist Charles S. Johnson, whose distinguished legacy is found in the social science departments of the National Urban League and Fisk University. When asked by a student how to shape one’s community so that it is economically competitive, Charles asserts that leveraging governmental power is the key to generating economic opportunity. During his time at the Metropolitan Applied Research Center, he worked alongside civil rights activists John Lewis, Julian Bond, and Roy Innis. Georgia defined his upbringing as a political activist: “My introduction to Atlanta was with John Lewis. And through the lens of the folks who were changing the world, and certainly changing the South. So I got to meet the leadership of SCLC and the leadership of SNCC… If you show yourself as somebody who is willing to roll up your sleeves and help out, you’re welcome. And that’s the kind of reception I found coming to Atlanta.” As a Mid-Hudson Field Coordinator for Reverend King’s campaigns, Charles helped organize demonstrations like the Poor People’s Campaign and Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike. With regards to his career, he discusses obstacles in planning urban development, demographic shifts, and representational politics.
As of 2022, he has resided on Bard’s Board of Trustees for more than a decade. Bard College presented Charles S. Johnson with the Bard Medal in 2021.
Myra Armstead, Charles S. Johnson III '70, Holland & Knight LLP, Atlanta, Georgia, Charles Spurgeon Johnson, University of Chicago, National Urban League, Fisk University, Schomburg Papers, New York Public Library, Jeh Vincent Johnson, Jeh Charles Johnson, Catholic University of America, Washington, Poughkeepsie, New York, Professor Robert "Bob" Koblitz, Professor Heinz Bertelsmann, Toni-Michelle Chapman Travis '69, Dayton, Ohio, Nashville, Tennessee, Meharry Medical College, Durham, Society of Mary, Bloody Sunday 1965, Robert Johnson, Wilberforce University, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), The Dayton Urban League, Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, Metropolitan Applied Research Center (MARC), Columbus Circle, Kenneth Bancroft Clark, John Robert Lewis, Horace Julian Bond, Roy Emile Alfredo Innis, Atlanta, Georgia, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Time Magazine, Poor People's Campaign, Washington, D.C., Pentagon, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Memphis Sanitation Workers' Strike, Sottery Hall, Ludlow Hall, College of the Holy Cross, Justice Clarence Thomas, Dean Carl M. Selinger, University of Colorado Law School, University of Virginia, Boston College, Robert Frederick Drinan, House Judiciary Committee, Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr., The Alonzo Herndon Homes, Urban League of Greater Atlanta, Professor Roger Berkowitz, Chicago Race Riot of 1919
Johnnson, Charles S., "Charles S. Johnson III '70" (2022). All Oral Histories. 82.
Cultural adjustment to Bard
Johnson_Charles_part2.mp3 (7264 kB)
Civil rights activism and Bard
Johnson_Charles_part3.mp3 (3768 kB)
Radicalism in the Civil Rights Movement
Johnson_Charles_part4.mp3 (3419 kB)
Planning for urban development
Johnson_Charles_part5.mp3 (6812 kB)
Creating economic power for one's community