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Lyman T. Johnson papers

Identifier: 2004_076-UA

The Lyman T. Johnson Papers consist of twenty boxes of material totaling approximately 23.50 linear feet. There are biographical and topical files, clipping and reference files, audio and video tapes, yearbooks, photos, plaques and awards, and diplomas. The news clippings—originally found in three-ringed binders--are frequently stapled to sheets of scrap paper which in some cases are themselves historically significant. The clippings reach back to the 1930s but the bulk hails from the 1950s to 1980s. The biographical and topical files are equally expansive ranging from a few news articles from the 1920s to a booklet on the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) in the 1990s. Those files include clippings from a wide variety of sources, flyers, correspondence, funeral programs, items of family and personal history, and miscellanea. Lyman T. Johnson, the historian, clearly organized and preserved this treasure trove of personal and topical documentation with an eye toward future researchers.


  • 1930-1995


Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for some materials has been transferred to the University of Louisville; please consult a reference archivist for more information.


23.5 linear feet (17 records center boxes, 1 half-manuscript box, 2 odd-sized boxes, 7 oversized items and 1 CD)

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.


The Johnson Papers are arranged in five series: Biographical and Topical Files, Photographs, Published Material, Plaques, and Diplomas. The Biographical and Topical Files series, by far the largest, is broken into five subseries: Indexed Files, Unnumbered Files, Binders, Unclassified Materials, and Tennessee. For the most part, Lyman Johnson’s unique system of arrangement for his papers, where most items or files have been assigned a name and a number, has been respected. Also, whenever possible, the original file folders and file envelopes have been retained. In the Indexed files and Tennessee subseries, for instance, each number deals with a specific name or topic. The complex system designates the first file within a 100s base numbering arrangement (e.g. #201A) as a site for reference topics for which there are just a few items within say the 200-250 range -- each item marked with the appropriate reference number -- while a topic consisting of multiple items would have a stand-alone number, e.g. #206. At the beginning of that larger Biographical and Topical subseries, a compilation of those topics and their corresponding numbers has been gathered into both a numerical and topical listing photocopied from Mr. Johnson’s original “home-made notecards.” (Those notecards are found in Box 9.) The archival processor discerned some patterns in the Johnson filing system (for example, the 500s mainly deal with schools and churches while the 900s deal with Central High School), but frequently a pattern was indiscernible. Use of the Johnson filing system is made additionally challenging by the fact that the family has retained certain files, and that the Unnumbered Files subseries appears to follow an earlier, lost classification scheme.

Processing Information

The archivist returned duplicates and routine medical and financial records to the family and numbered files found stuffed in binders were filed in appropriate Indexed Files (Subseries I: A). As a result, binders VIII, XII, XIII, and XIV were eliminated. On the other hand, Series I: C “Binders” remains intact though the materials were removed for preservation purposes from their original binders and placed in file folders. In some instances numbered single items found in a 100s base aggregate file were moved to an appropriate free standing topical file within the same numerical series. There are numerous instances within the original numbering system where information is found in several locations. In a few instances, when items appeared to be misplaced or overlooked for inclusion in Lyman Johnson’s filing system, the archivist provided an appropriate numerical or topical designation. When a spouse is not listed in the index but the file clearly contains information about them the spouse’s name was added. A majority of the file folders have writing on the index tab provided by Lyman T. Johnson or a family member. Several volumes in Mr. Johnson’s personal library were of general interest and transferred to the University of Louisville Libraries while other volumes were cataloged for the reference holdings of the University Archives and Records Center. There was an older numbering system for the plaques that is reflected in the Johnson numerical index. However, at some point the numbering system was changed by the family and that ordering system has been retained. Some plaques/awards did not have numbers so they were provided by the archivist consistent with that later numbering system. There were files in several boxes that only had names, numbers, or nothing at all written on them. Those files that had numbers were filed in the Indexed Files (Subseries I: A) subseries and the ones only with names or nothing at all were placed in the Unnumbered (Subseries I: B) subseries.

Lyman T. Johnson Papers
Tom Owen, Teresa Ruffra and Natamara Mike
February 2011
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Louisville Archives and Special Collections Repository

Ekstrom Library, Lower Level Room 17
Louisville KY 40292
502 852-6752