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Nelson Johnson

Gender: Male

Ethnicity: African-American

Biographical/Historical note:

Nelson Napoleon Johnson was born on April 25, 1943, in Airlie, North Carolina, and was raised on a family farm in the nearby town of Littleton. In 1961, he graduated from an all-black high school in Littleton and enlisted in the United States Air Force. He spent significant time at Westover Field, Massachusetts, and Baden, Germany, before being discharged in 1965. Following his discharge, he worked in Harlem, New York, for a year, before enrolling at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, N.C.

As a student at A&T, Johnson became active in civil rights and social justice efforts in the city. He joined YES (Youth Educational Services) as a tutor, and later worked as a community organizer for YES in Fayetteville. He also served as student director of Greensboro United Tutorial Services (GUTS), was active in the Foundation for Community Development (FCD), and helped found Greensboro of Association of Poor People (GAPP) in 1968. Johnson was elected vice president of the A&T student body in 1969, and was involved in the protest at Dudley High School which eventually led violence on the A&T campus. Afterwards he was charged and convicted of disrupting a public school and inciting a riot, for which he served two months in prison.

Johnson became active in the pan-Africanism movement in the early seventies, mainly working with Youth Organized for Black Unity (YOBU). He also became interested in Maxism-Leninism, and helped form the Revolutionary Workers League (RWL), which merged with the Workers Viewpoint Organization (WVO) and changed its name to the Communist Workers Party (CWP) in 1979. That same year at a CWP rally protesting the Ku Klux Klan in Greensboro, Johnson was one of five protesters wounded when violence broke out between protesters and Klansmen. Johnson and five others were charged with felony riot for the events of November 3.

Following the completion of his undergraduate degree in political science at A&T in 1986, Johnson enrolled in the Virginia Union School of Theology in Richmond . He earned a master’s degree three years later and returned to Greensboro to serve as an assistant pastor. In 1991, he founded Faith Community Church and became its pastor. Johnson remained active in local charitable, civic, and social justice causes, among them the Greensboro Pulpit Forum and Mayor's Community Initiative. He also served as vice president of the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, as a chairperson of the local chapter of Interfaith Worker Justice, and as chairman of the board for the Greensboro Justice Fund. Johnson lead efforts to establish the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, tasked with investigating the events of November 3, 1979, and help found the Beloved Community Center, which he also served as executive director. Johnson has been honored with the NAACP Democracy, Freedom, and Human Rights Award, the AFL-CIO Faith Leader Award, and the Ford Foundation’s Leadership for a Changing World Award, among others.

Items created by this individual or group:
Item thumbnail image Letter from Nelson Johnson to editor
Date: July 29, 1981
By: Nelson Johnson
From: Edward Burrows Papers
This letter to the editor was drafted by Greensboro citizen and Communist Worker Party member Nelson Johnson just before he was arrested in July, 1981. In this letter Johnson explains his status as a ...
Item thumbnail image Letter from Nelson Johnson of the Youth Organization for Black Unity
Date: December 10, 1972
By: Nelson Johnson
From: Chancellor James Sharbrough Ferguson Records
This six-page letter from Nelson Johnson of the Youth Organization for Black Unity (YOBU), dated December 10, 1972, invites black student leaders to affiliate their organizations with YOBU. The letter...
Item thumbnail image Oral history interview with Otis L. Hairston Sr. and Nelson Johnson by William Link
Date: May 5, 1989
By: Nelson Johnson
From: GreensboroVOICES Collection

In this transcript of a May 5, 1989, oral history interview conducted by William Link with Otis L. Hairston Sr. and Nelson Johnson, Hairston and Johnson compare their respective childhoods in Green...

Item thumbnail image Oral History Interview with Nelson Johnson by William Chafe
Date: October 24, 1978
By: Nelson Johnson
From: William Henry Chafe Oral History Collection

This October 24, 1978, oral history interview conducted by William Chafe with Nelson Johnson primarily documents Johnson’s community activism with YES (Youth Educational Services), FCD (Foundation ...

Item thumbnail image Oral History Interview with Nelson Johnson by William Chafe
Date: January1979
By: Nelson Johnson
From: William Henry Chafe Oral History Collection

This oral history interview conducted by William Chafe circa January, 1979, with Nelson Johnson primarily documents Johnson’s opinions on the education system, the 1969 A&T/Dudley protest and the c...

Item thumbnail image An Open Letter to Joe Grady, Gorrell Pierce, and All KKK Members and Sympathizers
Date: October 22, 1979
By: Workers Viewpoint Organization
From: Blanche M. Boyd Papers
This flyer, in the form of an open letter from Nelson Johnson of the Workers Viewpoint Organization (later known as the Communist Workers Party) to leaders of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) challenges KKK mem...
Item thumbnail image Letter from Communist Workers Party
Date: December 23, 1979
By: Communist Workers Party U.S.A.
From: Blanche M. Boyd Papers
This December 23, 1979 mimeographed letter from the Communist Workers Party (CWP) to its supporters and contacts discusses the November 3, 1979 Death to the Klan march where five protestors were kille...