THE REVEREND MORDECAI WYATT JOHNSON (JANUARY 4, 1890-SEPTEMBER 10, 1976)
Educator, University President, Community Organizer, and National Baptist Minister
Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010) contains the revamped calendar of saints for The Episcopal Church. That volume contains a list of people the denomination might add later, given the passage of more time. That list contains the name of Mordecai Johnson. Although my church body has decided to wait, I act today to enroll him on my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.
Born to former slaves in Paris, Tennessee, in 1890, Johnson did not grow up in an academic environment. His mother worked as a domestic, and his father was a mill worker and a preacher. Yet Johnson’s future was to an academic one. He studied at Morehouse College, Atlanta University, the University of Chicago, and Rochester Theological Seminary, graduating from the seminary in 1916. He also graduated with a Master’s Degree from Harvard University in 1922. Along the way, he married Anna Ethelyn Gardner (with whom he had three sons and two daughters), pastored the Second Baptist Church in Muford, New York, served as the pastor the First Baptist Church of Charleston, West Virginia, and worked with the YWCA.
Johnson became the first African-American President of Howard University in 1926, serving in that position for thirty-four years. He developed his institution in many ways, notably transforming its law school into a training ground for many civil rights attorneys and law professors. Much of his legacy in this regard became evident in the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, which fought back the curse of Jim Crow laws via the court system. Brown v. Board of Education (1954) was one of their greatest accomplishments. Among the people Johnson inspired was Martin Luther King, Jr.
Johnson died in Washington, D.C., on September 10, 1976.
History contains the stories of many heroes. Sometimes, as in the case of Dr. King, they receive great renown and even a national holiday. King deserves his holiday, but let us not forget Mordecai Johnson, who inspired him.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
SEPTEMBER 5, 2011 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF MOTHER TERESA OF CALCUTTA, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN
THE FEAST OF GREGORIO AGLIPAY, PHILIPPINE INDEPENDENT BISHOP
LABOR DAY (U.S.A.)
The Collect and Readings:
O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served, and to give his life for the life of the world. Lead us by his love to serve all to whom the world offers no comfort and little help. Through us give hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, peace to the trouble, and rest to the weary, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
This a a collect and these are the readings for “Renewers of Society” from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), the hymnal and worship book of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).