Colonel Stone Johnson was born in Lowndes County, Alabama, a rural
community within Alabama's agriculture-rich Black Belt. Born in 1918,
Johnson's life spanned both the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras. As a
young child in the 1920s, Johnson witnessed the rise and power of the Ku
Klux Klan, a paramilitary white supremacist organization known for its
terrorist tactics against African Americans. Klan violence, which
included random beatings and lynchings of African Americans, dubbed
Lowndes County "Bloody Lowndes." Local police offered no
When Johnson was four years old, his family moved to Birmingham, then
one of the most segregated cities in the South. His father was a
college-educated cement finisher and labor organizer, and his mother was
a homemaker. The schools Johnson attended were small and overcrowded.
Black children often walked miles to attend segregated schools, even if
it meant passing several white schools. Once there, black students had
fewer resources, poorly paid teachers, and used textbooks and equipment.
Heat was provided by firewood that students or their parents provided.
Lack of access to equal education and employment opportunities limited
the economic outlook for most African Americans. Throughout the 1940s
and 1950s, Johnson worked as a truck driver and later for the railroad.
He belonged to a segregated union and worked to equalize working
conditions for black employees, who were often discriminated against,
kicked, or beaten by white bosses.
The Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education marked a
turning point for African Americans of Johnson's generation. For the
first time, the black population had reason to believe that the Court
was on their side, and the civil rights activism that followed reflected
the hope among many African Americans that segregation and
discrimination could be eliminated.
In 1956, Alabama state officials outlawed the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for its supportive role in the
Montgomery bus boycott. Civil rights leaders formed the Alabama
Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) to fill the void. The Klan
and other angry whites targeted Birmingham's black population anyway.
The city was nicknamed "Bombingham" for numerous bomb attacks
on African Americans.
Johnson was part of a security detail for the ACMHR that worked to
protect black leaders, their homes, and churches from Klan attacks.
Churches were targeted because they were the central meeting place for
black civil rights activists. On one occasion, Johnson and an associate
were instrumental in removing ignited dynamite from the Bethel Baptist
Church, preventing further destruction and possible loss of life.
Despite the risk to his own life, Johnson represented the courage and
determination of African Americans to eliminate racial inequality in