Self Awareness Vehicle Who Are You

​Son of Charles S. Johnson

The Great Educator Charles S. Johnson

Charles Spurgeon Johnson   1893-1956   

​Charles Spurgeon Johnson was born on July 24, 1893, in Bristol, Virginia, and named in honor of a noted Baptist preacher.  His father, Charles Henry Johnson, was also a Baptist minister and an ex-slave whose owner had taught him Latin, Greek, Hebrew, English, and American literature.  His mother, Winifred, created hymns from spirituals and work songs that were sung in Bristol for many years.
Charles, the oldest of five children, read many of the literary classics and theology books that were in his father’s library.  In 1909, he entered Wayland Academy, a Baptist school for blacks in Richmond, Virginia.  As a young boy, he earned money shining shoes.  While at Wayland, he worked as a ditch digger, night watchman, and messboy.
In 1916, Johnson attended Virginia Union University in Richmond, graduating in only three years as valedictorian.  During college he had various jobs.  Even with his heavy academic and work schedule, he participated in a wide variety of activities.  He was a tennis player, baseball and football team manager, debater, college newspaper editor, and student council president.  After graduation, Johnson studied on a fellowship at the University of Chicago and served as a director of research and records for the Chicago Urban League until enlisting in the service during World War I.
In July 1919, Johnson at the time an infantry sergeant-major returning from active duty in France, was in Chicago when the beatings, stabbing, and shootings of blacks occurred.  That same year, Johnson became Associate Executive Secretary of the Chicago Commission on Race Relations, leaving the position two years later to direct research for the National Urban League in New York City.  In 1923, he became editor of the League’s new magazine, Opportunity, which printed the works of many of the black writers of the Harlem Renaissance.
In 1928, Johnson became a professor and the Director of the Social Sciences Department at Fisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1946, he was named President of Fisk, becoming the first black to hold this position.  By the time of his inauguration, he was already one of the country’s leading blacks.  He recalled a childhood incident that had haunted him into adulthood.  When he was a child, he and his mother would sometimes end a shopping trip with a visit to a soda fountain.  One day, the store owner told his mother that he could no longer serve them because of their race.  The humiliation was so deep and memorable that Johnson publicly recalled it many years later at his inauguration ceremonies.
After World War II, Dr. Johnson was one of 26 educators sent to Japan to improve that country’s school system.  He was the author of many books and articles and belonged to numerous government committees and national organizations. Under his leadership, Fisk developed one of the nation’s strongest social science departments, in the field of race relations, and was able to double its educational budget.  Dr. Johnson assembled an outstanding faculty at Fisk, enabling the establishment of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter on campus.  Closed circuit television instruction was instituted, in addition to an early admissions program for outstanding high school students.
On October 27, 1956, Dr. Charles Spurgeon Johnson died of a heart attack in Louisville, Kentucky, while on his way to New York City for a Fisk board of trustees meeting.  He was survived by his wife of 36 years, Marie Antoinette, and four children.  Some of Dr. Johnson’s famous works included: The Negro in Chicago (1922); The Negro in American Civilization (1930); Economic Status of the Negro (1933); and The Negro College Graduate (1938).

Excerpt from A Salute to Historic Black Educators.

​This is only a summary of the life of Charles Spurgeon Johnson.