'Finding the Good' in the Segregated South

Young Journalist, Aged Sharecropper Forge Special Friendship

Cover of 'Finding the Good'

Cover of Finding the Good (Rutledge Hill Press 2003) hide caption

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Most people have had a teacher, family member or friend who has had a major impact on their lives. For Lucas L. Johnson II, it was meeting Fred Montgomery.

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As a young journalist, Johnson was assigned to write a story about the Alex Haley Museum in Henning, Tenn. There he met Montgomery, an 87-year-old old former sharecropper whose stories of the segregated South captivated Johnson. Their friendship would become a life-changing experience for both men.

Johnson writes about that friendship and the true nature of forgiveness in his book Finding The Good. NPR's Tavis Smiley spoke with both Montgomery and Johnson about their special relationship.

Here, an excerpt from Finding the Good:

Soon it was voting day, and Fred and his campaign rejoiced. Black people from the Colored Lane flooded the polls. There were people like Jessie Lake, who rolled down in her wheelchair to vote, and Richard Pete, a blind man who had quit voting and swore he'd never vote again. Then there was an eighty-year-old white lady named Mrs. Viginia Tuholski, considered the matriarch of Henning. Her maid helped her to the voting booth, and she told the local newspaper she was voting for Fred because "he's honest." His heart swelled from all the support. Before the voting booths closed, Fred ran into his opponents, two white men. He told them that after much prayer, God had revealed to him that he was going to be the next mayor of Henning. They both laughed. But Fred had the last laugh. The finall tally showed he had more votes than both of them put together.

During the time Fred was elected, the mayor of a small town like Henning also had to serve as judge. This was a challenge for Fred. Not so much because of the extra duty, but because of problems with his own people, as well as whites. Blacks who knew him thought they should get by with a warning, and some whites simply didn't think and old black man should be telling them what to do. But as he'd always done, Fred met the controversy head-on.

Rutledge Hill Press, copyright 2003 Lucas L. Johnson II

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