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Sun, 04.16.1899

Robert W. Johnson, Doctor and Tennis Mentor born

Dr. Robert Johnson

*Robert W. Johnson was born on this date in 1899.  He was a Black physician and community activist.  

Robert Walter Johnson was born in Norfolk, VA.  He graduated in 1924 from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, he was a classmate of Melvin B. Tolson. Following a college career playing football at Pennsylvania's Lincoln University as a Negro All-American, Robert Walter "Whirlwind" Johnson coached football for four seasons in Virginia and Texas before entering Meharry Medical College, in Nashville, Tennessee.

After completing his studies, Johnson was the first Black physician to receive practice rights at Lynchburg General Hospital in Virginia. Johnson continued his medical practice in Lynchburg for his entire career.  Known as the "godfather" of black tennis, he was the founder of the American Tennis Association Junior Development Program for Black youths.  In the Jim Crow years in the segregated South, Blacks had no public courts where they could learn tennis, and many did not have money for lessons. Johnson was instrumental in encouraging the athletic careers of both Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe, whom he personally coached. 

Robert Johnson died on June 28, 1971.  Legacy and honors for Johnson include Johnson was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1972. Johnson was nominated as a contributor in 2007 for the International Tennis Hall of Fame and would later be inducted with the Class of 2009. His home and training center, the Dr. Robert Walter Johnson House and Tennis Court, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. The Walter Johnson Health Center, a large medical care and community health education center in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, was named in his honor.  The Dr. Robert Walter Johnson Memorial Invitational, Petersburg, Virginia. 

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