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Wed, 06.02.1954

Patrice Johnson, Policy Activist born

Patrice Y. Johnson

*Patrice Johnson was born on this date in 1954. She was a Black Lawyer, Political Chief of Staff, and community activist.

From Wooster, MA. Patrice Yvonne Johnson was born less than a month after the Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. B.O.E. She was the oldest of three daughters born to Charles and Josie Johnson. Her father was in the military and a Vice President and Group Executive at Honeywell. Her mother was an educator, and both parents remain staunchly engaged in the African American community.

As a youth, she took ballet and theater. Johnson and her family moved to Houston, TX, before settling in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There she graduated from Abraham Lincoln high school, Bloomington, Minnesota, where she was president of her Junior Class.  Always a high community achiever as a teenager, she also spent much time at the inner city neighborhood community center “The Way” and the Phyllis Wheatley House.

In 1976, Johnson received her Bachelor's Degree from Fisk University In political science. While there, she achieved Phi-Beta Kappa, Summa Cum Laude, and worked as an intern at the Tennessee State Legislature with representative Alan King from 1974-75. With a recommendation from John Hope Franklin to attend New York University (NYU), Johnson was accepted into a joint degree program at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs, where she studied Urban and domestic Policies.  She was a Root-Tilde Scholar and received her Law degree from NYU and a Master's Degree in Public Administration at Princeton University in 1980.

Also during that time, Johnson spent one summer working for then-Vice President Walter Mondale. She moved to Houston and was a law clerk for two years with U.S. District Judge Gabrielle McDonald in the 4th district in Houston, TX. Johnson was a successful attorney at the firm of Mayor, Day, and Caldwell while continuing her pro bono work for the Houston chapter of the NAACP.   In the case of Delores Ross v. Houston Independent School District, she coordinated the culmination of a twenty-eight-year-old lawsuit to mandate the Houston School system to fulfill the Brown v. BOE decision of the Supreme Court.

She participated in the 1985-86 Leadership Houston Class, was a member of the Houston affiliate of the National Urban League, and helped receive a State-designated Historical Site status for the Black 4th ward district of Houston. She was a member of the National Bar Association, Houston Bar Association, Houston Lawyers Association, Black Women Lawyers Association, and the Windsor Village United Methodist Church of Houston, TX.

At Windsor, she served on its Usher Board and as a role model for membership in its Methodist Youth Fellowship. Johnson relocated to the nation's capital in 1987 as Congressman Mickey Leland’s Legislative Director. There she concentrated on telecommunication issues working with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop minority preference policies. This allowed the FCC to employ special criteria for awarding broadcast licenses to African-American-owned and managed radio and television stations.

In January 1989, she was promoted to Chief of Staff of Congressman Leland’s Washington and Houston offices. Congressman Leland, chair of the subcommittee on hunger, provided famine relief to the citizens of Ethiopia. Leland, Johnson, and others were killed when their aircraft crashed into an Ethiopian mountainside on Aug. 7, 1989. They were on a mission to feed hungry refugees in a camp near the Ethiopia-Sudan border. Josie Thomas (her youngest sister) said of Patrice, “She was an inspirational role model who lead the way with humor and insight well beyond her years.”

Johnson's funeral service was at Zion Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and she was buried at Lakewood Cemetery. Those who came to pay their respects at her funeral were Congressman Leland's widow and mother; his press secretary, Alma Newsom, and most of the congressman's staff; Mayor Kathy Whitmire and several members of City Council; and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young.  Also attending were U.S. Reps. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y.; Al Wheat, D-Mo.; Ron Dellums, D-Calif., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus; and Harold Ford, D-Tenn. Dellums aide Joyce Francine Williams, an expert on child health and nutrition issues, was among those killed in the crash.

To Become a Lawyer

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