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Recognizing an Iconic Life: Morehouse College Mourns the Passing and Celebrates the Life of Dr. Tobe Johnson


Morehouse College celebrates the life and impact of Dr. Tobe Johnson '54, professor emeritus and a pillar of the institution, during his legendary tenure as the institution's longest-serving faculty member. Dr. Johnson was associated with Morehouse College for over seventy years as a student, alumnus, faculty member, and administrator.

The faculty icon taught at Morehouse for 59 years before retiring in 2018 from his role as Avalon professor and chair of the political science department. He taught courses on American politics, urban management, and policy analysis. Perhaps most notably, Dr. Johnson created and taught PSC 253: Scope and Methods of Political Science for over 50 years. Himself, a 1954 graduate of Morehouse, Dr. Johnson mentored scores of fellow Morehouse men, reaching beyond his classroom to help students grow from young men into impactful leaders. Among his students was Jeh Johnson '79, who would become the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Randall L. Woodfin '03, the youngest mayor ever elected in Birmingham, Ala., and a young Maynard H. Jackson Jr. '56, who would use the knowledge imparted under Dr. Johnson's tutelage to become Atlanta's first black mayor. He served as a key advisor on Jackson's 1973 campaign. Because of his impact on the city and the nation, October 21, 2019, was proclaimed Dr. Tobe Johnson Day in the city of Atlanta.

Dr. Johnson's graduation from Morehouse coincided with the Supreme Court's landmark "Brown vs. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas" decision, which set the precedent that began the unraveling of state-sanctioned segregation. After graduating from Morehouse, he became the first Black person to receive a Ph.D. in government (political science) from Columbia University and taught at Prairie View A&M University before President Benjamin Elijah Mays recruited him to teach political science back home at Morehouse. During his nearly six decades as a beloved faculty member, he helped emerging political scientists and future lawyers, elected officials, diplomats, judges, policy-makers, and thought leaders contextualize the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War, September 11, and the Black Lives Matter Movement. He also ran one of the only Peace Corps volunteer training programs in the South at the behest of President Mays, served as interim dean of the division of humanities and social sciences, a beloved graduation marshal, and the College's macebearer.

The excellence Dr. Johnson demanded was humorously referenced in remarks by former President Barack H. Obama (Hon.' 13) during his commencement address at Morehouse as he joked that a key stressor for graduating seniors was making sure they had performed well in Dr. Johnson's policy thesis class. The Air Force veteran was awarded Morehouse's Vulcan Teaching Excellence Award along with other honors, including a Bennie Service Award during the Morehouse's 14th annual "A Candle in the Dark" Gala and the Pioneer of Education/Education Excellence Award from the Not Alone Foundation. One of the first Blacks to be invited to join Leadership Atlanta, Dr. Johnson served on the MARTA and the Atlanta Regional Commissions. He was also commended through a Georgia State House of Representatives resolution.

"Through his roles as educator, nurturer, influencer and shaper of public policy, Dr. Tobe Johnson is a true American treasure," reads a proclamation from the Atlanta City Council.

Morehouse will share information about opportunities to honor the life of Dr. Johnson as they become available.