Becoming the first African-American to earn a doctorate from Texas A&M University was no easy task for James E. Johnson.
In fact, he says he was turned away numerous times because of segregation. Johnson died at the age of 91 on Oct. 6, according to his family.
He grew up and attended school in Rockdale and was accepted into Prairie View A&M in 1944, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in education. During that time, he was drafted into the Armed Forces and performed police duties in the Army until he was honorably discharged in 1948. He returned to Prairie View in 1948 after his discharge and finished his bachelor’s degree.
Between teaching vocational agriculture for Bryan ISD, raising a family alongside his wife Katie Francis Thomas and working his farmland, he found time to earn a master’s degree from Prairie View in 1962.
Johnson said in a 2013 interview archived by the Baylor University Institute for Oral History that he had applied to Texas A&M in College Station multiple times from the 1940s through the 1960s, but was turned away because of segregation.
Johnson applied again and was finally admitted at Texas A&M after the school was integrated and earned his doctorate in education in 1967.
He returned to Prairie View in 1968 to join the Prairie View A&M faculty and later transferred to Texas Southern University in Houston, where he retired.
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