Mrs. Johnson adapted well to the rigors of being a military wife. Her family moved many times, often living in a state for just a year before relocating to the next duty station. She was extremely organized and could have an entire house packed and moved in a week.
This was during the 1950s when African Americans were still prohibited, particularly in the Jim Crow South, from staying in many hotels and eating in restaurants. Instead, they had to rely on an informal network of referrals from friends and family to navigate their travels across the country. When they encountered roadblocks, she and her husband turned them into teaching opportunities for their children.
Despite the rigors and indignities of racial segregation, theirs was a relatively idyllic existence. The family was close-knit and spent hours laughing as they played cards and board games. Mrs. Johnson stressed the importance of education to her children and kept the house full of books. An avid reader, she passed this love to her family.
Mrs. Johnson was known for her cooking and skills as a hostess. As a result, guests would congregate there to dance to jazz, blues, and R&B music. When her husband was stationed in Japan for four years, Mrs. Johnson hosted the annual Christmas party and dinner for squadron members.
“We didn’t have a television when we lived in Japan. The house was just filled with people playing games and people coming by and dropping by. I think she adapted to being a military wife very, very well,” said daughter Pamela Thomas, editor of Philadelphia-based Pathfinders Travel Magazine, which is geared toward African American travelers. “She made it an adventure. If it was difficult or hard on her, she never expressed that even with the last year or two of her life.”
“My mother’s entire life was taking care of her family,” Thomas added.
Mrs. Johnson was the sixth child born to the late William and Lottie Franklin of Gulfport, Miss. After her mother died when she was just a toddler, Mrs. Johnson was raised by her doting father and an older sister. Hers was a happy childhood, spent fishing and catching crabs. In high school, she was a popular and engaged student, a member of her school’s glee club, on the cheerleading squad and on the softball team.
She was just a few months shy of her 18th birthday in 1950 when she married the late Lewis Larry Johnson, who was stationed at Kessler Air Force Base in nearby Biloxi, Miss. Together, they raised five children: Larry, Pamela Johnson Thomas, Derrick, Gay, and Daryl. Larry and Derrick preceded her in death.
After her husband retired in the late 1960s, the couple lived in Peru, Ind., before relocating to Lexington, Ky., where she lived about 30 years. (Her husband died in 1975). Mrs. Johnson resided briefly in San Diego, before moving to Philadelphia five years ago.
For a time, she resided in an apartment above Pathfinders’ former headquarters on Germantown Avenue before moving into the NewCourtland Apartments at Allegheny. During her final years, Mrs. Johnson relished visits from her grandchildren and watching old TV westerns and Judge Judy.
In addition to her children, she is survived by two grandchildren, one great-granddaughter, and other relatives.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the American Diabetes Association.