Vernon Johns : biography
Vernon Johns (April 22, 1892 – June 11, 1965) was an American minister and civil rights leader who was active in the struggle for civil rights for African Americans from the 1920s.
He is considered by some as the father of the American Civil Rights Movement, having laid the foundation on which Martin Luther King, Jr. and others would build. He was Dr. King's predecessor as pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama from 1947 to 1952, and a mentor of Ralph Abernathy, Wyatt Walker, and many others in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
A television film was made in 1994 called Road to Freedom: The Vernon Johns Story, written by Leslie Lee and Kevin Arkadie, based on an unpublished biography by Henry W. Powell of The Vernon Johns Society. The motion picture was directed by Kenneth Fink and stars James Earl Jones in the title role. Former NBA superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has long expressed an interest in African-American history, was the film's co-executive producer.Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954–63. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988. ISBN 0-671-68742-5
David Anderson Elementary School in Petersburg, Virginia, was renamed 'Vernon Johns Middle School' several years ago. In 2009 it became the junior high school for the city school system.
Johns was born in Darlington Heights, Prince Edward County, Virginia, the grandson of slaves. He graduated from Oberlin Seminary in 1918 and attended the University of Chicago's graduate school of theology.Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, at 9 (Simon & Schuster Paperbacks 1988). He died of a heart attack in Washington, D.C. on June 11, 1965 at age 73.
In Prince Edward County, Virginia, the Robert Moton School was the scene of a student strike for better conditions in 1951. One student leader, Barbara Rose Johns was the niece of Vernon Johns. Though he was in Montgomery at the time of the student strike, many report that he was influential in giving advice. His wife was a former teacher in the Robert Moton High School, and he still had numerous familial ties in the community of Farmville and the surrounding area. The Johns family knew the social politics of the area. The local NAACP chapter saw an opportunity to push for change and helped the students continue the fight after the ten day strike was over. This case, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, would be combined into others and brought to the U.S. Supreme Court as Brown v. Board of Education.
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