Johnson was the child of two slaves -- the very people Howard (a fervent abolitionist) sought to free. Not to beat a dead horse, but Johnson is evidence of what I mean when I say African-Americans don't really need lectures on inclusiveness. Indeed, the span of African-American leadership -- even the nationalist strain -- reflects a tradition of biracialism and cosmopolitanism. "Tradition" is to strong a word. Coercion is more like it. Mordecai Wyatt Johnson was the son of two slaves. It didn't much matter how he looked. He was black. It's a stupid rule. But we flipped it.
In that sense, all the talk of black being passe is bizarre. Not to be to triumphalist here, but we were multiracial before it was something to be bragged about.
Mordecai can't really account for Herman Cain, though. Still he was a beast
Johnson was born on December 12, 1890 in a small Southern town, Paris,
Tennessee to former slaves, Wyatt and Carolyn. His father was a preacher
and a mill worker. He was a man who set rigorous standards for his
son's chores and behavior. Mordecai's mother was a "domestic," employed
by one of the prominent families in town. Mordecai had three step
siblings: Jonas W., Dora, and Sallie. Three years after Wyatt's first
wife's death in 1885, he married Mordecai's mother, Carolyn Freeman.
he completed his grammar school education, he enrolled in Nashville's
Academy of Roger Williams University in 1903. The school was destroyed
by fire in 1905. Mordecai completed the term at the Howe Institute in
Memphis. Later that year, he entered the preparatory department of
Atlanta Baptist College where he completed his high school studies.
During his college years, from 1907-1911, he was strongly influenced by
Atlanta University President John Hope.
Johnson played football and tennis, was on the debating team, and sang
in the glee club and chorus. He was appointed to the faculty, where he
taught history, economics, and English for two years. He served as
acting dean for the 1911-1912 academic year. Mordecai studied at the
University of Chicago during the summers of 1912 and 1913, and received a
second bachelor of arts degree in 1913. He matriculated at the
Rochester Theological Seminary from 1913-1916.
led Howard through its golden years, when segregation basically gave
HBCUs a quasi-monopoly on the black intelligentsia,
year, I was in Paris, Tennessee for some civil war research. I was
being guided by a group of local history buffs, all of them white. One
of them was actually a dude from the Sons of the Confederate Veterans.
We got along swimmingly. The night before one of his brethren had come
to dinner in full regalia and gone on and on about why the South was
right. I missed that last portion; feeling like I knew where the evening
was headed, I ducked after dinner.
The SCV guy
was pretty embarrassed by it all (as were the rest of the local folks
with us.) Some of them certainly felt he was wrong, but more broadly
there was a sense that, whatever the politics, he hadn't been very
polite to a guest. Southerners, black and white, are interesting like
Anyway in Paris, we came to a small but
distinguished monument. Our guide began talking about how it was erected
in honor of a local African-American educator who'd gone on to do great
things. I went to look at the inscription. It was dedicated to Mordecai