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On this date, in 1890, Mordecai Johnson was born. He was a Black educator, clergyman, administrator, and public speaker.
Wyatt Mordecai Johnson was born in Paris, TN, the son of a former slave. Johnson learned through his parent's example the muscle of self-determination, discipline, scholarship, and integrity. His father, a minister and laborer was a stern man who worked at a mill six days a week, twelve hours a day, for forty years. His mother, Carolyn, offset his father's firmness with patience and nurturing for her only child.
Although Wyatt was Mordecai's first name, Carolyn chose Mordecai as his middle name because she took great inspiration from the role that Mordecai played in rescuing his people. She believed her son to be destined for a legacy of being great among his people and popular with the multitude. She also believed his life's journey, like that of biblical Mordecai, would be strongly associated with the welfare of his people and a lifelong mission of speaking peace to all people. Both parents made indelible impressions on his molding and development of him.
After completing the elementary grades, Mordecai left Paris to attend Roger Williams University in Nashville. Upon graduating from Morehouse College (Atlanta Baptist College) in 1911, Mordecai's oratorical ability won him critical acclaim. In 1922, Johnson delivered a commencement speech during his graduation from Harvard University Divinity School, titled "The Faith of the American Negro." He also received his Doctor of Divinity degree from Gammon Theological Seminary in 1928. Johnson was the first Black president of Howard University (1926).
Under his administration at Howard University, faculty tripled, salaries doubled, Congressional appropriations increased to $6,000,000 annually, and Howard University's Freedmen's Hospital turned out half of the African American physicians in the country. Perhaps Dr. Johnson's greatest contribution was the development of the University's Law School as the preeminent source of Civil Rights attorneys and law professors. He also had a profound influence on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s commitment to nonviolent resistance. Mordecai Johnson died in 1976.
The Encyclopedia of African American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File, Inc. New York