Madison and the world lost a great, great man this week and I’m still in a little bit of shock. Deacon Julius Johnson, whose passion for kindness and spirituality has positively affected innumerable people in Madison and beyond, passed away earlier this week.
Back when I was the Editor-in-Chief of The Madison Times, we were housed out of the Genesis Enterprise Center on Madison’s south side and my favorite past time was sitting and talking with Deacon Johnson. We tackled the issues of the day, social justice, racial tension, community events, religion, politics and, sooner or later (usually sooner), the Packers. He really loved the Green Bay Packers. Most interesting for me was when Deacon Johnson used to talk about people, places, and events from the older days … before I was born.
Sometimes we’d talk in our group that included older African-American men who worked at the Genesis Center – Manny Scarbrough, Richard Bryant, Dr. Richard Harris – and Deacon Johnson would always give us his own expertise gleaned from over 8 decades on this earth. Outside of the Genesis Center, I would constantly see Deacon Johnson and his lovely wife, Willie B. Johnson, at parties at Penn Park, at MLK events, at Club TNT Waterbearer Awards ceremonies, at fundraisers, and more. He was always out there supporting his community any way he could.
If you grew up on the south side of Madison, there’s a good chance that you knew Deacon Johnson since you were a baby. He was famous for his kindness and generosity. Deacon Johnson was always there to lend a hand, give advice, and listen and he always said hello with “how are you, young fella?” and good-bye with “God bless you, young man.”
Two things I remember that Deacon Johnson was very committed to: Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Madison’s south side and Masonry. Deacon Johnson was well-known, well-respected, and well-loved at Mt. Zion Church. His Masonic life he started in Madison in 1955 with Mount Mariah Lodge, where he received his Master Mason Degree. He has been a sturdy pillar for the Capitol City Lodge No. 2, F & A.M. Prince Hall Affiliate since 1962.
Specifically, I remember gathering back in April of 2008 at Capitol City Lodge No. 2’s Appreciation Dinner at the Sheraton Hotel to honor the life and legacy of Deacon Johnson. His lifelong friend, Dr. Richard Harris, was the keynote speaker of the event. All told, Harris and Johnson had known each other for 65 years.
“He’s done great work with young men who are incarcerated and in jail, and he’s actively involved with people who are poverty-stricken,” Harris told the crowd.
“When we needed a number of people to show up as we dealt with the school system for the hearings on the closing of Lincoln and Franklin schools in the late ‘70s, Deacon Johnson was committed to bringing people to those hearings,” Harris added. “Talking to people in the Office of Civil Rights, they indicated to me that what really swung things in our favor was the fact that we had a committed black community supporting us in our suit.
“He’s the type of person that is always there for you,” Harris continued. “There’s a tremendous challenge in the black community to find people like him. He’s done so many wonderful things. It should be a challenge and a wake-up call for others to follow in his footsteps.”
At that particular event, so many people had so many great things to say about Deacon Julius Johnson that they ran out of time.
“What I do for the lives of the people in my community is not about me at all,” Johnson told the crowd that night. “It’s about the God that lives deeply within my heart; and I want you to know, sisters and brothers, that I am so happy today. I am so thankful that you are all here.”
For many of us, Deacon Julius Johnson was an inspiration. He was a hero. He will truly be missed and the legacy he left in Madison will never ever forgotten.
I miss him right now.