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Biography Charles S. Johnson (1893-1956)

Portrait of Dr. Charles Johnson, date unknown. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division – Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection. Reproduction Number: LC-USW3-019352-C

Charles S. Johnson was born in Bristol, Virginia, on July 24, 1893. He attended Wayland Academy and received his undergraduate degree from Virginia Union University. Johnson completed his doctoral degree in 1917 at the University of Chicago. While a student in Chicago, Johnson assumed responsibility as director of research and investigation for the Chicago Urban League. During World War I, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in France. Johnson returned to Chicago after the war, one week before the race riot of 1919. He completed a study and analysis of the race riot and a plan to study its causes. The governor of Illinois accepted his plan and appointed Johnson associate executive secretary of Chicago’s Commission on Race Relations. In 1921, Johnson became the director of research for the National Urban League in New York, where he founded and edited Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life. Johnson came to Fisk University in 1927 to head the Department of Research. His scholarly ability was recognized by awards and appointments, including the 1930 William E. Harmon Gold Medal for distinguished achievement among African Americans in the field of science. He served on the National Housing Commission under Herbert Hoover and on the U. S. Committee on Farm Tenancy under 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. When Fisk University created the Institute of Race Relations in 1944, Johnson was chosen to head it. In October 1946, the board of trustees chose Charles S. Johnson as the university’s first African-American president. Johnson died in 1956.

Selected Works at the Library of Congress