The former school superintendent, Army veteran, civil rights activist, and long-time member of our church died in Wilmington on April 21, 2020, at the age of 85. The Mayor’s Office released the following press release on May 5:
Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki today honored the memory of former Red Clay School District Superintendent Dr. Joseph E. Johnson, who passed away at his Wilmington home at the age of 85. The Mayor characterized Dr. Johnson as one of Wilmington’s “most caring, effective, forward-thinking, dedicated, and memorable residents whose work influenced the lives of countless people.”
“It is particularly fitting that we celebrate Dr. Johnson’s remarkable life of service during Teacher Appreciation Week,” the Mayor added. “A beloved educator and advocate, his profound impact on the lives of so many will be his lasting legacy to a grateful City.”
Born in Wilmington in 1934, Dr. Johnson was a graduate of historic Howard High School and held a B.S. in Biology from Central State University, a master’s in School Administration from Seton Hall University, and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Massachusetts. He was selected by the Rockefeller Foundation to participate in a superintendents training program, served two years on active duty as an officer in the U.S. Army Surface-to-Air Missile program, and taught science in Montclair, NJ, before returning permanently to his hometown.
Once back in Wilmington, Dr. Johnson began his career in school administration at Warner Junior High School. In 1968 he became principal of P.S. DuPont High School then, after serving as District Director of Personnel, he was appointed Superintendent of the Wilmington Public Schools. Finally, he became the first Superintendent of the Red Clay School District, serving in this capacity for nine years until his retirement in 1990.
Born and raised on Wilmington’s east side, Dr. Johnson was deeply involved in the struggle for civil rights and actively engaged in the important issues of his time. He participated in Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington in 1963, and the Million Man March in 1995. Dr. Johnson ably represented the interests of City students and teachers, and articulated requirements for their equitable treatment, during the landmark Evans v. Buchanan desegregation case. And over the years he served as a consultant and valued contact in the many federal cases concerning strategies to desegregate schools and to provide quality education for all students.
Among the many honors that Dr. Johnson received during his long life was his being chosen as the first subject of The Delaware Historical Society’s “Voices of The Elders – Stories of African Americans in Delaware.” Click on this link to see Dr. Johnson’s contribution to that project.