John W. Johnson

September 18, 1929 ~ October 13, 2019 (age 90)


John Wesley Johnson, LCSW


 John Wesley Johnson was born in Whatley, Alabama on September 18, 1929. He was the first of three children born to Wes and Bessie Robinson Johnson.  The family later moved to Bessemer, Alabama where John completed his formal education.

 John’s early days perhaps provide a clue to the tenacity and determination that marked his legacy of leadership.  He entered Morehouse College at the age of 14 armed with a partial scholarship and a zest for learning, becoming one of Morehouse College’s youngest students.  His classmate, the college’s most famous graduate and world-renowned civil rights leaders, was Martin Luther King, Jr.

 He left Morehouse after two years, joining the Navy for a seven year hitch where he was in the first integrated group to enter a Naval Training Battalion.  He left the Navy determined to devote his life to leveling out the playing field for other African Americans.  He instinctively realized the key was education and would often say, “without education, you are bound for poverty” so he returned to complete his work at Morehouse and earn a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and then entered Atlanta University in 1955 and graduated two years later with a Master’s Degree in Social Work.   He later completed course work for his Licensed Clinical Social Work Certificate (LCSW).

John’s unique combination of life experiences and a strong academic background made him one of San Diego’s most respected and valued community leaders.  His resume includes an initiation into the field of human services as a rookie probation officer; a stint as senior psychiatric social worker with the State Department of Mental Hygiene; a successful tenure as San Diego City Schools first community Education Coordinator, and a twenty plus-year history as an Urban League CEO.  His accomplishments are many and varied ranging from making local history as the first ever African American to hold the office of Deputy City Manager, to leading the transformation of the San Diego Urban League, one of the city’s foremost social service agencies serving African Americans and other disadvantaged minorities.

John’s career with the Urban League began in 1964 when he was appointed as the second executive director in San Diego.  From 1964 to 1972 he earned his stripes as one of the organization’s youngest leaders.  On two occasions, John was called upon to leave San Diego.

The first was upon the request of the then National Urban League President and Civil Rights leader, Whitney M. Young, Jr.  In 1968 Young asked Johnson to take a year’s sabbatical to help with the League’s “New Thrust Program”, an exciting grass root initiative that worked to support the ongoing fight for racial equality for Blacks throughout America.  In 1970 he moved to Westchester County, New York to serve as CEO of the Westchester County Urban League for four years before he was recruited into the post of San Diego’s Deputy City Manager.

Highly sought after for his aggressive and creative leadership style, John lent his service to numerous civic, community and political organizations and boards.  Some are listed below.

Board of Directors, San Diego County Water Authority; Board of Directors, 22nd District Agricultural Association (San Diego Country Fair); Board of Directors, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce; Board of Directors, Neighborhood National Bank; Member, UCSD Board of Overseers; Member, San Diego Dialogue; Member, San Diego Gas & Electric Advisory Committee; Chairman, Lincoln-Gompers Redevelopment Committee (a community oversight committee for the rebuilding of Lincoln High School); Chairman, Vision and Strategic Planning Task Force, Christian Fellowship United Church of Christ., United African American Ministers Action Group, City of San Diego Human Relations Commission; Sharps Health Care Advisory Board; Chairman, Johnson Urban League Charter School Governance Board. Member San Diego Rotary; Member, Mayor’s Renaissance Commission and Fair Housing Council Advisory Board; Chair, San Diego Police Foundation, Chair, Alliance Healthcare Foundation.

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Memorial Service
November 2, 2019

1:00 PM
Christian Fellowship Congregational Church
1601 Kelton Rd.
San Diego, CA 92114

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