Johnson is Bradley County’s oldest African-American man.
A native of the Eureka community near Charleston, Johnson was raised on his parents’ farm. He is the oldest of 19 children.
Johnson’s birthday is actually Thursday but the family-hosted celebration, which is open to the community, is being held Saturday for the convenience of local and out-of-town guests who want to attend and help the local statesman celebrate another milestone in his life.
Celebration hosts include his children — Lois Parks, Loretta Campbell, Alice Turner and William, James, Allen and Alphonzo Johnson.
“Dad is a real people person,” daughter Alice Turner said. “He loves to be around people and he loves going to the Golden Corral and Ryan’s. We take turns taking him out.”
The local centenarian is a past recipient of the Living Legend Award by the NAACP.
The wise but soft-spoken senior admits his memory and health are slowing, but he still has a detailed memory of his childhood and the family farm where possums and rabbits were food staples on the family table.
“We had a big farm where we raised hogs, chickens, ducks, cattle, goats — we had everything we needed — we grew wheat, had big fields of corn, had peach orchards,” Johnson reminisced in an interview published in the Lifestyles Section of the Cleveland Daily Banner in January 2010.
He also recalled in the interview with Lifestyles Editor William Wright, “I can still remember some things. I remember women would get those sacks of flour, sew them up and make underclothes out of them.”
He added, “They washed clothes with soap and hot water, hung them on a fence and it would take about six weeks before the clothes got dry. It was some different times in those days.”
Johnson’s birthday celebration is an appropriate launch to Black History Month in Cleveland and Bradley County which will include commemorative observations on the Lee University and Cleveland State Community College campuses.
On Thursday, Feb. 10, beginning at 6 p.m., the Lee University Dixon Center will host the MLK Dream Keeper Award Ceremony which honors area youth who have given valuable service to the Cleveland and Bradley County community. The keynote address will be delivered by the Rev. Vincent Jackson, program manager for First Helping Street Outreach at D.C. Central Kitchen in Washington, D.C. First Helping is a street-level outreach program that works to empower and assist homeless and low-income individuals by providing food and building relationships.
On Feb. 12, beginning at 9 a.m., the Cleveland State Community College Foundation Room will host the Annual MLK Community Breakfast. This year’s theme is “Dream the Change, Lead the Change, Be the Change.” Keynote speaker is Ronald Harris, corporate diversity representative for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
Both the Lee University and CSCC functions were originally scheduled for MLK Day in January but were postponed to coincide with Black History Month due to inclement weather.