Janet Johnson, the first African-American professor at Jacksonville University and founder of its federally funded Upward Bound program, died Wednesday, Aug. 22, of congestive heart failure. She was 79.
Mrs. Johnson’s late husband, Earl Johnson Sr., the Jacksonville City Council’s first African-American president, was an adviser to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Their home was used for planning meetings with King in 1964 that also involved the Rev. Ralph Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Andrew Young, who became mayor of Atlanta.
The Columbus, Ga., native earned a bachelor’s degree from Morris Brown College and a master’s degree in education from the University of Florida. She completed additional studies toward her doctorate in Education at UF.
Mrs. Johnson was the first African-American professor employed by JU and was a Florida Times-Union EVE Award recipient. At JU she was director of the TRiO programs, which included the Upward Bound Program and four other programs.
Mrs. Johnson was the grant writer and originator of The Upward Bound Program in 1977. During her 22 years as director, more than 1,400 students participated in it. She retired in 1999 after more than 30 years of service.
In an Aug. 24 Florida Times-Union story reporting her death, staff writer Sandy Strickland quoted Fran Kinne, former JU president and chancellor emeritus, who praised Mrs. Johnson’s “tremendous leadership.”
“She really was a remarkable educator,” Kinne said.
Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, a JU alumnus, told Strickland that Mrs. Johnson was a role model.
“She really kept me focused as a student and person on maximizing my future,” Brown was quoted in the Times-Union. “She was a giant in our community and a giant at Jacksonville University.”
She was also predeceased by her parents, Theodore and Maurice Rutherford, and son Kevin James Johnson. Survivors include two daughters, Robin Johnson of Atlanta and Peri Lynne Johnson of Vienna, Austria; two sons, Earl M. Johnson Jr. of Jacksonville and Nelson Johnson of Los Angeles; nine grandchildren and a sister, Lillian Dennard of Brandon.
A funeral Mass was offered Saturday, Aug. 25, at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, 11757 Old St. Augustine Road. Visitation starts at 9 a.m. Burial was at St. Joseph’s Cemetery. The family suggests donations to the Janet Johnson Scholarship Fund, c/o Jacksonville University.