Lyman T. Johnson was a grandson of slaves who grew up in the deeply segregated community of Columbia, Tenn. One day, his father, the principal of the segregated black school, sent him on an errand to the white school, where Johnson saw for the first time the truth of Jim Crow laws that created separate and unequal facilities.
"He saw this beautiful building and the polished gym floor," recounted his son, Lyman M. Johnson. "He recognized how different it was from his own school. It charged him at an early age with some anger, but he channeled his anger in a way to make change, to correct things."
Lyman T. Johnson made one of the biggest corrections in the University of Kentucky's history when he sued for admission to graduate school in 1948, leading the way for admissions at all levels for black students by 1954.
Nearly 70 years later, UK recognized the consequence of Johnson's actions by renaming Central I, one of UK's newest dorms, Lyman T. Johnson Hall.
"My father was all about progress and moving forward from generation to generation," Lyman M. Johnson said Wednesday, shortly after he and other family members unveiled the metal name on the dorm that honors his father. "We hope this building is a representation of that."
Imar Hutchins of Washington, D.C., Johnson's grandson, said the family had a mantra that comes from Dyer Johnson, the patriarch who bought his family's freedom in Tennessee in the 1850s.
"He said, 'I leave you this house, this land and I give you your freedom,'" Hutchins said. "He also said, 'What ever you do, don't let the wagon roll back down the hill.'"
Lyman T. Johnson never did. He received a bachelor's degree in Greek from Virginia Union University and a master's degree in history from the University of Michigan. In 1949, he started his Ph.D. at UK. Although he did not finish that degree, he was awarded an honorary degree in 1979.
Johnson taught at Louisville Central High School for more than 30 years before becoming an administrator in the Jefferson County schools. He was president of the Louisville chapter of the NAACP, and worked to integrate swimming pools and other public spaces. He died in 1997 at age 91.
A push to rename Central I, which opened in 2013, was made by the Lyman T. Johnson African American Alumni Group.
His son said the residence hall's placement on UK's campus would please Johnson. "He would be happy as a history teacher ... that this building is right next to the library."