Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority

Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority

Black History Month – February 2024

Johnson Court apartments were dedicated in April, 1941 by Dr. Charles Spurgeon Johnson in honor of his father, the Reverend Charles Henry Johnson. Johnson Court is located at the “5-points” intersection of Euclid Avenue, Bristol Virginia. The condo-style apartments were first built as housing for the then segregated African American community.  

Reverend C.H. Johnson, an emancipated slave from Richmond Virginia, came to Bristol to take up his position with what would become the Lee Street Baptist Church in 1890.  He served the community and people he loved for 42 years. His grandson, the renowned Dr. Charles Spurgeon Johnson described him as “a devoutly religious Baptist Minister who had the will and the way of translating his religious convictions into useful pioneering social action.” Under his leadership the church grew and expanded, building a much larger structure and growing the community. 

This drive for social action would continue on in his grandson, Dr. Charles Spurgeon Johnson, born in Bristol Virginia in 1893. Dr. Johnson is a well known sociologist and civil rights activist. He was the first black president of the historically black Fisk University. Prior to leading Fisk University, Dr. Johnson worked as a researcher and then as Director of the National Urban League. 

He is also well known for his work in support of the Harlem Renaissance acting as editor of two journals and founder of the magazine Opportunity, an outlet for black expression in the arts. He was a principal researcher and author for the Chicago Commission on Race Relations for its report on the riot of 1919.

The desire to create a better world carried on in Jeh Johnson, grandson of Dr. Charles Spurgeon Johnson, and great-grandson of Reverend C.H. Johnson. Jeh Johnson served as the United States Secretary of Homeland Security from 2013 to 2017. You can hear Secretary Johnson speak on the work of his forefathers during the dedication of two state historic markers here: Historical Markers Dedication, Charles S. Johnson & Lee Street Baptist Church: Bristol, Virginia

In October, 2021 the Virginia Department of Historic Resources dedicated two markers celebrating the historic contributions of the African American community in Bristol, Virginia; one in memorial of Dr. Charles S. Johnson, and one to mark the original location of the Lee Street Baptist Church. The markers can be found on the east side of Cumberland Square Park, facing Lee Street. 

This is by no means an extensive account of the contributions of these three men, or the Johnson family. Their continued contributions are numerous and include their ongoing support of Lee Street Baptist Church, and the surrounding community and residents of the Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority. 

Thank you to Black in Appalachia and the Bristol Historical Association for their contributions to this article.

Reverend Charles Henry Johnson (February 17, 1859 – January 16, 1932)

Reverend Charles Henry Johnson as depicted by Bristol, VA artist Dakari Wheeler for the October, 2021 Historic Marker dedication.

Dr. Charles Spurgeon Johnson, grandson of Reverend C.H. Johnson as depicted by Bristol, VA artist Dakari Wheeler for the October, 2021 Historic Marker dedication.

Dr. Charles Sturgeon Johnson (July 24, 1893 – October 27, 1956)

Excerpt from the Bristol Herald Courier, April 2, 1941 announcing the dedication of Johnson Court and Dr. Charles S. Johnson’s visit.

Jeh Charles Johnson (born September 11, 1957) is an American lawyer and former government official. He was United States Secretary of Homeland Security from 2013 to 2017. Johnson’s first name is taken from a Liberian chief, who reportedly saved his grandfather’s life while he was on a League of Nations mission to Liberia in 1930.

The “old” Lee Street Baptist Church, located on Lee Street and built under the leadership of Reverend C.H. Johnson. The church was later moved into the present day location on Mary Street due to constant flooding from nearby Beaver Creek.

Lee Street Baptist Church Historic Marker, located in Cumberland Square Park, and Reverend Dr. W.A. Johnson (1932 – July 6, 2022) during the dedication ceremony in 2021. Under his leadership, the current church was built in 1965.

The “new” Lee Street Baptist Church located on Mary Street, Bristol VA.