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Posted 24 Jul 2001   For week ended July 06, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 06Jul01

By Kent Larsen

Memoir of First African American Priest in Texas Published

AUSTIN, TEXAS -- Less than two years after Allan Johnson Sr. died, his son, Allen Jr., has published his father's memoir, telling the story of the persecution an racism his father endured, how he joined the LDS Church, and his ordination to the priesthood on Father's Day, 1978. The self-published memoir has caught the attention of the local press in Austin, and his son says he is trying to get the book out to the LDS market as well.

Allen Johnson Sr. was born in East Texas during the Great Depression. He joined the US Army in 1938 and in 1942 graduated from Field Artillery Officer Candidate School. But when he went to celebrate, he discovered there wasn't anywhere on based open to him, "When I thought about some place to go on the post," Johnson wrote in his memoir, "there was nowhere. As an officer, I would not be welcome at the Enlisted Men's Club, and as a black man, I was not allowed to go to the Officer's Club, so there was no place to go but home."

During the rest of his 23-year Army career, Johnson saw other examples of the Army's institutionalized racism at the time, including one base where the Army built a separate golf course just for him and a fellow officer, rather than let them join the officer's club and use the officer's course. Still, in these cases, Johnson didn't speak out, "I figured doing a good job and keeping my mouth shut would be the best way to endure the discrimination with dignity."

But he didn't always keep his mouth shut. He spoke out when white enlisted men failed to salute black officers and when he discovered that an Arizona base had segregated water coolers. These incidents affected him, Johnson wrote, "I will be scarred all my life because of the degrading treatment meted out to me."

On his last tour of duty, in 1961, Johnson had an experience that changed the rest of his life. "I went to bed about 8 p.m. . . . but I fell asleep almost immediately. Then, in a vision or dream, I saw a very saintly looking person with long hair, dressed in a long white robe. He did not speak to me but gestured for me to follow him. When I tried, I woke up . . . I thought to myself that I had just had a unique spiritual experience, but I could not understand it." A friend suggested to Johnson's wife, Fannie, that they visit The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and ask them about the vision.

Johnson was quickly spellbound by what he was taught there, "No one had ever caught my interest in the Gospel of Jesus Christ so completely as did those missionaries," Allen Sr. later explained. "Between the sixth and seventh lessons, I had the vision again while at home alone. This time, between me and the man I was to follow, was a fountain of clear, sparkling water. I could see him clearly . . . I was overwhelmed with joy . . . I felt the Holy Ghost had confirmed to me that the Gospel and the church I was studying were true."

He soon asked to be baptized, but the missionaries explained to him that black men couldn't be ordained priests. Johnson paused, and then said, "I still want to be baptized; I will take care of the priesthood matter later." But 'taking care of the priesthood matter' meant 17 years of waiting. The leadership of the Greenville, Texas Ward and Stake called within hours of the announcement that all worthy male members of the Church could be ordained, and Johnson was made a priest on Father's Day of 1978.

Allen Johnson Sr. died in October of 1999, soon after seeing a copy of the galley proofs of his memoir, which was edited by his son. Allen Johnson Jr. explains his father's, and his own, devotion to the LDS Church in terms of family, "You know you're in the right place, with the whole family of God. People there are looking out for one another, and that's part of our work . . . I think the church reflects the diversity of the country very well. Come to our ward one day, and you will see Hispanics, Asians, people from the islands . . . it's a rainbow."

But Allen Johnson Jr. says that he and his father took different paths to gaining a testimony of the Church. While his father had a vision that gave him a testimony, his son had to work for it. "I'm an engineer and a scientist, so the Lord had to prove it to me in a way I understood." He paused, thought, and added with a laugh, "Well, the Lord doesn't have to prove anything. I had to prove it to myself."

Johnson Jr. is highly accomplished himself. He retired from IBM in 1990 after 26 years of service and more than 30 patents and publications to found his own high-tech firm, Rainbow Analysis Systems Group. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, and also considers himself a poet, a black belt and a historical researcher. He currently serves as director of public affairs for the LDS Church in Round Rock, about 20 miles north of Austin.

He told Mormon News that he is looking for a way to distribute his father's memoir, "Celia's Boy" to LDS bookstores. For now, the book is available at a couple of Austin bookstores, Book People and Hannah's Hand Cart, and by mail from The House of Johnson, 2900 W. Anderson Lane, #203, Austin, TX 78757.


Faith of his father
Austin TX American-Statesman 19Jun01 A2
By John T. Davis: Special to the American-Statessman


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More about "Celia's Boy" by Allen M. Johnson Sr. at

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