FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, October 25, 2019
GEORGIA & THE NATION LOSES A CIVIL RIGHTS ICON
A Statement by Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
Georgia State Senator Leroy Johnson was the first African American senator elected in Georgia since Reconstruction in 1962. He was elected as a Democrat. He died at age 91. Our prayers are with his immediate family and his extended family throughout Georgia. Georgia and the nation have lost a civil rights icon.
Johnson was a former teacher, attorney and graduate of Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University. He was instrumental in desegregating the Georgia State Capitol and was most famous for reviving the boxing career of Muhammad Ali. “He is the very reason why Muhammad Ali got back into the ring. And it happened only in Atlanta because of Leroy Johnson,” Rev. Jackson said. In 1970 Johnson brought Ali to Atlanta to give him a chance to fight again, first at Morehouse College’s gymnasium and later at the municipal auditorium. Ali had been stripped of his license to box because of his refusal to be drafted and fight in Vietnam.
Upon being elected he worked quietly to desegregate the restrooms, drinking fountains and chamber galleries that were all labeled “white” and “colored” and all of the pages were white. Johnson said, “I carried my pages into restrooms that said ‘white’ instead of ‘colored.’ And when we got to the water fountain, I had them drink from the water fountain that had the sign that said ‘white’ instead of ‘colored.’ None of this was done with a news camera pointed to capture the fact. Shortly after, then-Gov. Carl Sanders removed the signs from the Capitol.”
State Senator Leroy Johnson was the tallest tree in the forest of Georgia elected officials having paved the way for black Georgians to their rightful place in the halls of the Gold Dome and throughout Georgia as he represented the black community unapologetically at a time when doing so seemed to be impossible.
Senator Johnson, congratulations on a job well done. Rest in peace.