As colleagues with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Lyman Tefft Johnson was my friend for many years. Through his leadership I learned much about the justice movement and the trials and commitments he and his peers advanced for the cause of justice.
I believe Lyman would deeply appreciate the honors the University of Kentucky has posthumously bestowed on him. On Wednesday, the UK will dedicate its Central Hall as Lyman T. Johnson Hall. The Kentucky civil rights community is obviously very proud of this.
He was UK's first African-American admitted student and a great civil rights activist. He devoted his life to the education of young people and the development of their human capital. In this way, he uplifted the whole society. He was a standard bearer for justice, a drum major for fairness and a faithful activist with accomplishments too numerous to mention.
Last month, UK announced its Lyman T. Johnson Diversity Fellowship, a matching award for applicants holding half-time graduate teaching or research assistantships. The university is also offering Lyman T. Johnson Postdoctoral Fellowships. The deadline for these submissions is Nov. 13. The stipend is $35,000 for a year, plus $5,000 for support of research activities.
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Lyman earned a bachelor's degree in Greek from Virginia Union University in 1930 and a master's in history from the University of Michigan in 1931. He started teaching history at racially segregated Central High when he moved to Louisville in 1933, and he spent the next 40 years as aneducator.
He taught history, economics and government at Central for 33 years (doubling as athletic director for many years), was assistant principal at Parkland Junior High (later Lyman T. Johnson Middle) for four years, taught at Manley Junior High for one year, and was director of student personnel at Flaget High School, a parochial school in West Louisville, for two years.
He took two years away from teaching to enlist in the Navy during World War II, where he taught enlisted black sailors, many of whom had, "never had a day of schooling," he said. He served on the Jefferson County Board of Education from 1978 to 1982. Lyman used his passion and eloquence to help open doors for thousands of minority students. He helped lead struggles to integrate neighborhoods and schools. He headed the Louisville NAACP chapter for six years. He filed a federal lawsuit against UK in 1948, challenging the state law that prohibited blacks and whites from attending the same schools. He was successful, entering UK in 1949 as a 43-year-old graduate student. Although he left before earning a degree, he received an honorary doctorate in 1979.
Lyman, I and others debated and agonized together over strategies to impact the human rights movement in Kentucky for more than three decades. When he wrote his memoir, The Rest of the Dream: The Black Odyssey of Lyman Johnson, he sent me a copy in 1989 with a note calling me his friend of many years. It is one of my treasures from this gallant gentleman.
We commend the University of Kentucky for acknowledging the work, sacrifices and immeasurable contributions Lyman Johnson made to integrate the university and to promote equality in Kentucky.
He lived a valuable, contributory and long life, dying at age 91 in 1997. If he were alive, I know Lyman still would be in the trenches with the foot soldiers for justice in Kentucky. He did, in fact, leave the world a little better than he found it, and he challenged the rest of us to do the same.