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
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
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
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
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