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Sun, 12.15.1878

Kathryn Johnson, a front line activist

Kathryn Johnson book, 'Two Colored Women with the American Expeditionary Forces'

On this date in 1878, Kathryn Magnolia Johnson was born. She was an African American civil rights activist and writer.

She was born in Drake County (a Colored Settlement) near Greenville, Ohio. She attended public schools in New Paris, Ohio, and studied at Wilberforce University from 1897-98 and 1901-02. She also studied at the University of North Dakota in 1908. Johnson began teaching in 1898 in the Indiana and Ohio school systems. In 1910, after moving to Kansas City, she shifted her career to “race work.” Johnson is credited by many as the first field worker for the NAACP.

In 1913, she made her living with commissions from the organization by building branch memberships throughout the country beginning in the South and West. In February 1915, she was given a small salary to go along with her commission. Oddly, she was let go by the organization (some say) due to her forceful personality and insistence on all-Black leadership with the NAACP. Johnson and Addie Hunton were two of three Black women who worked for the YMCA in France during World War I to guard the rights of Black American soldiers abroad.

After the War she undertook an exhausting nationwide campaign to circulate Black literature. She continued to teach, lecture, and agitate for civil rights throughout her life. Kathryn Johnson died in 1955.

The Book of African-American Women:
150 Crusaders, Creators, and Uplifters
by Tonya Bolden
Adams Media
ISBN 1-58062-928-8

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