This is a link to a YouTube recording of Leola Johnson talking about Theo during a program called ‘Hippie Localism’ at the Walker Art Center on November 17, 2015. Her talk is about 50 minutes into the program, she mentions Theo and his family in Alabama about 57 minutes in.
This is a transcription of most of her statement, in case the Walker takes the recording down
…things too, that were very educational moments for me there around, you know. questions of race so when I left Columbus and moved to Minnesota to go to graduate school, I settled on the West Bank and I settled, I went, I lived in, around the corner from the Viking bar. Right? in a basement apartment. there were more white people around me than I had ever been around in my life in a living situation. And it was really kind of a shock to my system … people would come… if anybody knows where that apartment, those apartment complexes, it’s not the holzman building but the… the greystones, right ,right around the corner from the Viking bar. I had all these exciting experiences like people would get drunk and they’d throw up on my kitchen window. Or pee on my kitchen window (laughter) in the evening. And then the spring…
How many minutes do I have.. I have two minutes left? I’m just getting warmed up. laughter
But I remember the spring of this year, and this raises important questions for me still about race and made me think deeply about race on the left and in the co-op movement and so forth. In the Spring of that year, I was on my way to class, and a young woman at north country co-op ran up to me to give me a leaflet saying that they were trying to bring in canned food to north country coop, and to food that, food that would help , she said, “people like you”. Laughter. You know this young hippie woman saying to me, that, because she assumed that I lived in the highrises and that I was, you know, a black working… it never crossed her mind that I was a graduate student. Laughter. you know. that summer I moved to Saint Paul. Laughter. Thinking, I, you know this… I admire, I ate at all the most important places on the West Bank, I really liked that culture, but the race stuff really bothered me a lot, so I got out of there, I moved to, went, lived, moved to Selby Dale, which by the way, some of the people in my program told me,when I asked them, “where do black people live in the Twin Cities? They said, oh, “we don't have any segregation in the twin cities.” Laughter. I was looking for some hair product, right, where can I find hair product? He says you can't find that because we're just completely integrated . laughter. so I moved over to selby dale and there discovered, you know, the Black Community, Rondo and so forth. But also saw this, this, formation that craig cox writes about in his book. that's the selby co-op which is one of the coops that we don’t talk about very much anymore that was really important and one of the..and I actually got to know the guy who was the head of the Selby co-op, a guy named Theo Smith, Yeah, who craig cox describes as a stalinist in his book and there was all kinds of drama in that coop, that was organized around race but also around sectarianism, that we don’t talk about very much these days and so, I got to know Theo and the mostly white members of that coop, the leadership was black, most of the members of the co-op were white. And were white women, and I looked at the kind of pathological formations that can arise in that kind of situation and, you know. Eventually got to meet Theo’s family and his partner and made very good friends with them. I don't know enough about what went on in the co-ops to know whether or not the characterization of him as a Stalinist is true. I did know some Stalinists here, you know, but he didn’t strike me as a Stalinist. [audience unintelligible] ok, that he was too authoritarian for their tastes. But what’s …The other really interesting thing about my relationship with Theo was that, eventually I went to [...], which is where he was from, and met his extended family and they really were SNCC and Civil Rights activists, the entire huge family of them and so was Theo, so I don't know where this, this, authoritarian Theo thing comes from, I mean I’m willing to believe it, but my main point is that, there is this hidden history of race around the hippie movement, around the coop movement, that we need to talk about. Ok? [applause]