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Mon, 11.11.1833

William H. Johnson, Abolitionist born

William H. Johnson

*The birth of William Henry Johnson in 1833 is celebrated on this date. He was a Black Abolitionist and politician.

Johnson was born near Alexandria, Virginia, to free parents. Johnson left home in Virginia at age twelve to travel to Philadelphia, where he learned to be a hairdresser.  He came to Albany, N.Y., in 1851, immediately becoming involved in the Underground Railroad. He assisted Stephen Myers in the work he was pursuing.  He returned to Philadelphia in 1855, where he continued his work as an abolitionist and activist with the Underground Railroad.  He became involved in the Banneker Literary Institute and with others, where he could write and speak against slavery.  He was forced to run away from Philadelphia in 1859. When the American Civil War began, he joined a Connecticut unit participating in the Battle of Bull Run, Roanoke, and Newberne.

Johnson returned to Albany in 1864, where he began an involvement in local and state politics. He was a New York State (NYS) Equal Rights Committee member and became its chairman from 1866-73. He drafted an amendment to the military code of NYS, striking the word "white" from the document. This change was accepted in 1872. He drafted American Civil Rights legislation that became law in 1867 and assisted in abolishing the property clause in the Constitution that prevented many blacks from voting.   Johnson crusaded for and won 1891 a bill that ended discrimination against Blacks in the insurance industry.

He wrote an autobiography after a career including the Underground Railroad, organizing volunteers for the Union Army, and political and social activism.  A copy can be found in the Pruyn Room of the Albany Public Library and the New York State Library Archives. By his death, he was a Grand Master in the Masons, a delegate to several Republican conventions, published several newspapers, including the Albany Capitol, and produced his own biography. William Henry Johnson died in 1918.



Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region, Inc.
PO Box 10851
Albany, New York 12201

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