Biographical / Historical
Lyman Tefft Johnson was born in Columbia, Tennessee June 12, 1906. He was the eighth of nine children born to Mary and Robert Johnson and the grandson of former slaves. His grandfather, Dyer Johnson, bought himself out of slavery in 1850 and two years later he purchased his wife, Betty. Dyer had to wait two years because Betty’s owner would not let the husband buy her until he had land and a home. Lyman’s father and uncle were both educators and they emphasized the need to get an education as the only way to make their lives better. In 1937 Lyman married Juanita Morrell who was also from Columbia, Tennessee. They were married for forty years and had two children, Yvonne Hutchins and Lyman M; one grandson, Imar; and one granddaughter, Ayelet.
Lyman Johnson received a Bachelor’s Degree in 1930 from Virginia Union University and a Master’s Degree in History in 1931 from the University of Michigan. He moved to Louisville, Kentucky in the spring of 1933 at the insistence of his sister, Louisvillian Cornelia Blue. He started teaching History at the racially segregated Central High School that fall and spent the next forty years as a public and parochial school educator. Johnson taught History, Economics, and Government at Central for thirty-three years (doubling as Central’s Athletic Director for many years), was the Assistant Principal at Parkland Junior High School (later Lyman T. Johnson Middle School) for four years, taught at Manley Junior High for one year, and was the Director of Student Personnel at Flaget High School, a parochial school in West Louisville, for two years. He took two years away from teaching to enlist in the United States Navy during World War II.
Mr. Johnson was very active within his community. He was an elected member of the Jefferson County Board of Education from 1978 to 1982. He served as a Deacon at Plymouth Congregational Church for thirty years, was active in the NAACP for forty years (serving as President of the Louisville branch four times), and was a member of the Louisville Public Library Board for six years. Johnson was also a member of the Kentucky Civil Liberties Union Board for twelve years and Secretary for two years and active on numerous other boards and committees within the city and state. Mr. Johnson was also a founding member of the Board of the J.O. Blanton House, a senior residence sponsored by his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha.
Lyman Johnson was a leader in the successful local struggle to equalize African-American and white teachers’ salaries in 1939-1941. In 1948 he fought successfully in federal court for admission to the all-white University of Kentucky and was also a Plaintiff in the 1972-1975 federal court case that led to further integration of Louisville and Jefferson County Public Schools. Johnson also engaged in the struggle for civil rights for African-Americans in libraries, parks, theaters, public accommodations, and residential housing.
Johnson received over 200 awards and recognitions including four Honorary Doctor of Letters degrees from the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, Spalding University, and Bellarmine University. There are also awards, scholarships, parades, and a public school named in his honor.
He died in Louisville, Kentucky on October 3, 1997.