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Professor Emeritus Willard R. Johnson, political scientist who specialised in African research, dies at 87

Professor Emeritus Willard R. Johnson, political scientist who specialised in African research, dies at 87



Willard R. Johnson, a professor emeritus within the MIT Department of Political Science who centered his scholarly analysis on the political improvement of Africa, died in late October at age 87. Johnson served as a member of the MIT school for practically 60 years, whereas additionally founding and taking part in quite a few civic initiatives geared toward making political and social advances in Africa and the U.S., and constructing engagement between the 2 areas.

Johnson joined the political science school in 1964 as an assistant professor. He was the primary Black school member at MIT to rise by way of the ranks and obtain tenure from inside, and he created a broad portfolio of accomplishments. Johnson performed in depth fieldwork in Africa, revealed vital contributions to the research of African political establishments and independence actions, advocated for the inclusion of extra Black students within the MIT neighborhood, and served as a number one voice at MIT and within the Boston space towards South Africa’s apartheid.

Johnson additionally held visiting positions at Harvard Business School, Boston University, and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, along with his time as a college member and emeritus professor at MIT.

Johnson was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1935 and moved to Pasadena, California, the place he graduated from Muir High School. He earned his AA from Pasadena City College in 1955, and a BA in worldwide relations from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), in 1957. At UCLA, he served as scholar physique president, and in addition helped to discovered the campus’ chapter of the NAACP. Notably, he was additionally chargeable for bringing W.E.B. Dubois to campus as a speaker. Johnson later obtained his MA diploma in African research with distinction from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, in 1961, and his PhD in political science from Harvard University, in 1965.

Johnson’s Harvard dissertation, “Cameroon Reunification: The Political Union of Several Africas,” shaped the idea of his first e book, revealed as “The Cameroon Federation” by Princeton University Press in 1970. In a overview of the e book within the Journal of Modern African Studies, W. Norman Haupt wrote, “This fastidiously ready e book is predicated upon a sound, goal understanding of native details and preferences,” whereas noting that it “is full of these minute particulars of historical past which make for thrilling studying.”

Johnson himself would say that his most vital accomplishment whereas at UCLA was assembly his spouse, Vivian Johnson. They not solely shaped a long-lasting bond in marriage, but additionally grew to become scholarly collaborators and collectively revealed “West African Governments and Volunteer Development Organizations: Priorities for Partnership” (University Press of America, 1990). Political scientist Pearl T. Robinson of Tufts University known as it “required studying for anybody searching for insights into the struggles which might be being waged to advertise elevated political pluralism and different improvement methods in modern Africa.”

Johnson remained impressively lively in politics and public service all through his life. From 1968 to 1970, he took a go away from MIT to function government director of Circle, a Roxbury, Massachusetts-based neighborhood improvement group. In 1972, he directed the Africa Policy Task Force for the George McGovern for President committee, and served on the Democratic Party Advisory Council’s Foreign Affairs Study Group. He additionally served on the U.S. National Committee for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Johnson later grew to become a number one voice at MIT, and nationally, within the anti-apartheid motion. He led the Boston chapter of TransAfrica’s Free South Africa Movement. As Johnson famous, in an interview for the Department of Political Science’s fiftieth anniversary celebration, he was arrested, together with Nobel laureate George Wald of Harvard and different native luminaries, at an anti-apartheid rally in Boston. Johnson was proud to be actively concerned in Nelson Mandela’s go to to Boston in 1990, a part of the anti-apartheid chief’s momentous journey to the U.S.

In 1991, a couple of years earlier than stepping down from his school place, Johnson based the Kansas Institute for African American and Native American Family History, which promotes the preservation and documentation of household identification, traditions, and accomplishments of members of the African American and Native American communities of the Midwest.

Johnson’s 2001 paper revealed within the Black History Bulletin, “Tracing Trails of Blood on Ice: Commemorating ‘The Great Escape’ of 1861-62 of Indians and Blacks into Kansas,” chronicled a major episode on this underexplored regional historical past. He remained lively with the Kansas Institute for African American and Native American Family History till his passing.

Johnson additionally based the Boston Pan-African Forum, a gaggle selling mutually useful relations between the United States and the individuals of Africa, and remained an lively a part of it all through his later years. 

Throughout his time at MIT, Johnson was an lively voice in assist of diversifying the Institute school and scholar neighborhood, and pushing for higher alternatives for Black school and college students alike. Johnson was pleased with the accomplishments of Institute college students reminiscent of Georgia Persons PhD ’78, a political scientist who’s now a professor within the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech; and Marsha Coleman-Adebayo PhD ’82, a number one advocate towards office discrimination whose experiences helped generate passage of the Notification and Federal Employee Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act, signed into federal legislation in 2002. 

In searching for to construct stronger ties between scholarly communities, Johnson additionally initiated a joint seminar in political science between MIT and Howard University, within the mid-Nineteen Seventies, an effort concluding with mixed class session for all of the taking part college students from each establishments.

Johnson remained a visual presence within the political science division following his transition to professor emeritus in 1996. Colleagues lucky sufficient to cross paths with him have been greeted with a tremendously heat smile. Those who knew him throughout his time on the school have fond recollections of him stopping by their workplaces to test in, inquire about relations, and provides the distinctive encouragement and type understanding which, by way of his extraordinary expertise and character, solely he might provide.

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