(UnitedVoice.com) – Former Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson was born in Waco, Texas, in 1935. She grew up in the Jim Crow South but didn’t let that stop her ambitions. She went from a nurse to one of the most powerful US Congress members in her home state. Sadly, she has now passed away at the age of 88.
Johnson, the granddaughter of sharecroppers, was born to Lillie Mae White Johnson and Lee Edward Johnson in 1935. She grew up with three siblings. Her family attended the Toliver Chapel Baptist Church, and she graduated A.J. Moore High School at the age of 16.
After graduation, Johnson moved to Indiana. There, she attended Saint Mary’s College of Notre Dame and graduated with a degree in nursing in 1955. In 1956, once she passed the nursing boards, she moved to Dallas and started working at the Veterans Administration hospital, where she became the first black chief psychiatric nurse. Nine years later, in 1967, she earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the Harris School for Nursing at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (H.E.W.) as the principal official of Region VI in 1977. She worked there until 1981, then went on to build a real estate company.
Johnson became interested in politics in her twenties. According to The Washington Post, she visited a Dallas department store in 1956 to find a hat for a wedding, but the store clerks refused to let her try anything on because they thought black people were dirty. She told a journalist decades later that the clerks measured her head, then measured the hats to see if one would fit. Later, she organized boycotts against stores that wouldn’t let black people work for them or shop there. She won her first political race in 1973, becoming a member of the Texas House representing the 33rd District. While in office, in 1976, she earned her M.P.A. degree from Southern Methodist University.
In 1987, two decades after white clerks refused to let her try on hats, Johnson became the first black person from Dallas to serve in the Texas Senate since Reconstruction. She served until 1993, when she took on an even bigger job: US congresswoman.
Johnson served in the US House until 2023, when she retired from office. During her time in office, she became the first black person to serve as chairperson of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. She also served as the 17th chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, becoming one of the most influential members of Congress.
Senator James Clyburn (D-SC) posted condolences for Johnson’s loved ones on X, formerly Twitter.
Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and I joined Congress the same year, but our friendship began two decades earlier. She was a treasured colleague, trusted confident, and most importantly, a dear friend.
— James E. Clyburn (@RepJamesClyburn) December 31, 2023
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called Johnson a “wonderful human being” and said he would miss her.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson was a strong legislator, a good friend, and a wonderful human being. We will all miss her. https://t.co/cZwZjq2fwY
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) December 31, 2023
Johnson is survived by her son.
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