Charles Spurgeon Johnson Historical Marker Dedication The Bristol Herald Courier published articles on December 17, 2017, and February 11, 2018, about Charles Spurgeon Johnson.Those articles acknowledged that Johnson was born in Bristol,Virginia, on July 24, 1893, and that his father, Rev. Charles Henry Johnson, was the pastor of Bristol’s Lee Street Baptist Church for 42 years. Jeh Charles Johnson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from 2013 until 2017, is a grandson and great grandson, respectively, of these prominent men. The articles challenged us to recognize the life and accomplishments of Charles Spurgeon Johnson with a memorial, marker or special place. Members of Bristol’s Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration committee and the Bristol Historical Association are doing just that. Here is why and how: Charles Spurgeon Johnson was an American sociologist, editor and college administrator. While growing up in Bristol,Virginia, he had experienced racial discrimination that led to his lifelong fight for equal rights for African Americans and all ethnic minorities. Johnson’s work gave voice to African American culture neglected by mainstream American publishing. Johnson earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Virginia Union University and a Bachelor of Philosophy degree from the University of Chicago. He served as a noncommissioned officer in France during the First World War. He was deeply affected by his experience in the 1919 Chicago Race Riot. Subsequently, he conducted research on the riots for the Chicago Commission on Race Relations. As a result of his work, the National Urban League appointed Johnson director of its research department in 1921. Johnson was asked to chair the social sciences department of Nashville’s Fisk University in 1928. Widely recognized for his expertise on race relations, Johnson served on regional, national, and international organizations and commissions. He received prestigious appointments to an advisory committee on postwar educational reforms in Japan and as a U.S. delegate to UNESCO. Johnson served on the National Housing Commission under President Herbert Hoover and on the U.S. Committee on Farm Tenancy under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1934, he was elected the first African-American trustee of the Julius Rosenwald Fund, and in 1937 he became the first African American elected vice president of the American Sociological Society. In 1946, he was elected the first African American president of Fisk University, a position he held until has unexpected death on October 27, 1956. He was 63 years old. Markers for both Charles Spurgeon Johnson and Lee Street Baptist Church have been approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and will be dedicated at 2:00 pm Saturday, October 30, on the east side of Cumberland Square Park on Lee Street. Funding has been provided by the Bristol Historical Association, members of the Johnson family, members and friends of Lee Street Baptist Church and others. In the meantime, the Bristol Historical Association will present a program about the life of Charles Spurgeon Johnson at the Bristol Public Library at 6:30 pm Monday, September 13, 2021.The public is invited to both the program and the marker dedication. Historical Marker Task Force of the Bristol Historical Association. More information and a BHA membership application are available at

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