Edward Austin Johnson, Black Educator Hall of Fame

E’ry day this month, the Center for Black Educator Development, in partnership with Phillys7thWard.org, will highlight a Black Educator Hall of Famer.

But, don’t forget, e’ry month is Black History Month. February is just the Blackest.

Today, our featured Black educator is Edward Austin Johnson.

Edward Austin Johnson was born enslaved in Raleigh, North Carolina on November 23, 1860. However, Johnson received an education. He was educated by Nancy Walton, a free African American woman who also taught white children from wealthy families. Johnson then attended, and graduated, from the Washington School for Negroes and studied at Atlanta University for his undergraduate education.

While attending Atlanta University, Johnson simultaneously taught in rural Houston County, Georgia, and ran a barbershop. At the time he graduated in 1883, Johnson was already teaching in the Atlanta School District. During the years he spent in the schoolroom Johnson tried to make his teaching bear directly upon the Negro students themselves—giving instruction in history and biography he emphasized the achievements of the Negro.

He had no suitable textbook to guide the students, and he wrote one himself entitled The History of the Negro Race from 1619 to 1880. The book hit the right chord with helping students gain an appreciation of Black people; their history and their contributions. Upon graduation spent the next eight years as a principal; the first two years at the Mitchell Street School in Atlanta and the last six years at his alma mater, the Washington School for Negroes in Raleigh.

He would later write a second textbook in 1899 titled, History of the Negro Soldiers in the Spanish American War and Other Items of Interest.

In 1891, Johnson graduated from Shaw University School of Law in Raleigh; he was the school’s first graduate. In 1893 he was appointed an instructor at Shaw as a result of his excellent academic career at the school. By 1907, he was Dean of the law school. As a pillar in the community, Johnson was looked to as a potential political asset on behalf of Black people. Johnson made good on the potential and entered the political fray.

He was elected as an alderman in Raleigh, then served as Assistant United States District Attorney in the Eastern District of North Carolina for seven years. He served on various committees of the Republican Party to which he belonged, and as a delegate, he attended their important local and national conventions. President Theodore Roosevelt made him an honorary brigadier general in his inaugural parade.

His political engagement didn’t stop when he moved to New York City. He continued shaking tables there, becoming Committeeman for the Republican Party in the 19th Assembly District which elected him to the New York State Legislature in 1917. In addition to his political work, Johnson was a founder of the National Negro Business League with Booker T. Washington and was admitted to the New York State Bar.

Johnson contributed time and means to the advancement of civil and social efforts projected for the public good, and was remembered by the community he served. He died on July 25, 1944, due to complications from surgery.

Edward Austin Johnson; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.


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