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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 of free parents. Johnson left home in Virginia at the age of twelve to travel to Philadelphia where he learned to be a hairdresser. He came to Albany, N.Y. in 1851 where he immediately became 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. The work he was doing with fugitive slaves forced him 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 member of the New York State (NYS) Equal Rights Committee 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 in 1891 a bill that ended discrimination against Blacks in the insurance industry.
After a career including the Underground Railroad, organizing volunteers for the Union Army, political and social activism, he put together an autobiography. A copy can be found in the Pruyn Room of the Albany Public Library and in the New York State Library Archives. By the time of his death he was a Grand Master in the Masons, had been a delegate to several Republican conventions, had 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