Josie Johnson, community icon, continues ‘the ancestral struggle’

(Photo courtesy of St. Olaf College)

“It is my mission to serve my people” said Dr. Josie Johnson during a recent one-on-one with the MSR. On Thursday, July 27, Johnson shared her feelings about her commitment to her community. She attributed her community activism to growing up in a home with parents who were “very committed to the struggle.”

Said Johnson, “It is deeply etched in my fabric to service my community.”

Johnson moved from Houston, Texas to Minnesota in the mid-’60s. She said there were many things to do to rebuild community, and she was blessed to be able to engage in them.

In 1962, Johnson was the chief lobbyist for the passage of fair housing. Two years later, she worked on equal education and employment opportunities and led a group of women from Minnesota to Mississippi to experience the civil rights struggle firsthand.

She became acting director of the Minneapolis Urban League in 1967; she created many successful programs to help African Americans find employment, housing, and other community connections. Johnson was also, in 1971, the first African American woman appointed to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.

“Sometimes I say, ‘Dear God, how did we do those things and raise a family as well?’” Johnson is mother of three daughters, one of whom passed away in 1989. Johnson speaks very highly of her children and grandchildren, proud of the legacy she built. Knowing that her list of community children is much longer than her biological three, she described her pride in knowing they are engaged in work that is satisfying and rewarding.

Given the substance and impact Josie Johnson has in the community, MSR was curious to know how she spends her free time. “When I think about free time, I am not sure I know what that is,” she replied. “When I consider free time I think of the opportunities I am able to spend…with my children. Otherwise, I am always trying to do something, either catch up on something or read something.”

On October 18, at 5:30 in the Minneapolis Event Center, the Citizens League will award the Civic Citizenship Award to Josie Johnson and Susan Kimberly for their service and due diligence on behalf of Twin Cities’ communities.

Johnson is a trailblazer with many titles. She is about to add author to that list. Over the years she recalls a lot of young people asking, “Josie, how do you stay engaged in the struggle, what keeps you hopeful, how do you stay committed?” She has always tried to answer those questions and finally decided it was time to put it in black and white.

With six chapters down and about as many more to go, her sole purpose for writing the book is to “talk about [the African American struggles] and have a method of continuing our ancestral struggle, not only for education but also for freedom and justice.”

Johnson says children today follow the “image that the White world has created for them.” She added, “It is up to the elders to spread the history and ancestral images to the youth, so they have a different image than that of the media and press.”

The youth are better than the image created. “We [African Americans] are still here as a people, still struggling, and my fear is that with all of the technology of today’s world, our children will depend [so much] on media that they don’t get a chance to look at each other eye to eye.”


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One Comment on “Josie Johnson, community icon, continues ‘the ancestral struggle’”

  1. I have admired the good works of Josie Johnson for decades especially during her service at the University of Minnesota where she served on the Board of Regents. I was lucky also to know her daughter Patrice who sadly died in 1989. I grew up and was schooled in largely white Bloomington, MN, USA and got to know Patrice through an ARTS and theater crowd via a friend, Marsha Bonine. I also remember a guy Kerry Schussler who also acted with me in Bloomington Teen Theater. I wish Josie the best lifelong for her work in promoting and modeling Human Rights for ALL.

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