Property may be renamed in Johnson's honor

Photo by Terry Lewis

Photo by Terry Lewis

ALBANY, Ga. -- The name of a former city public works employee may yet be emblazoned on a local government building, more than 34 years after he and a small group of others took the city to court over discriminatory hiring practices.

The family of Johnnie Johnson has tried unsuccessfully since 2002 to get the city or the county to name a building in his honor.

After being fired during a labor dispute in 1972, Johnson and others filed suit against the city claiming that its hiring practices and personnel policies unfairly segregated and discriminated black city employees.

In 1976, U.S. District Judge Wilbur Owens agreed and slapped an injunction on the city of Albany that forced the government to retool its personnel management system, making it easier for black people to be hired.

While that injunction has since been lifted, Johnson is still seen as a courageous figure who refused to stand by and allow the city to use discriminatory policies and is considered by some in local government to have been one of the civil rights pioneers who set the path that they are now following.

Consider Commissioner Tommie Postell in those ranks.

At Tuesday's Albany City Commission workshop, Postell asked Mayor Willie Adams to put discussion of naming a piece of city property in honor of Johnson on the next meeting's agenda.

"Some recognition should be done by this body that will enhance and enable Mr. Johnson to have some type of recognition because he was the person who filed the first lawsuit against the city of Albany for racial segregation in the workplace," Postell told the board. "I think this man needs to have something that will memorialize his efforts.

"I think Mr. Johnson did a tremendous job as a public sanitation worker to stand up and defy this racial problem, and I think we need to put something in the form of a letter of recommendation to his family and have something memorialize the situation if it isn't nothing more than the naming of a park or road."

It's a request that has been brought before both the city commission and the Dougherty County Commission without success.

Johnson's son, Yaz, has tried unsuccessfully to get the Dougherty County Commission to name the county's Central Services Building at the corner of Pine Avenue and North Jackson Street in honor of his father, and he has tried to get the city commission to put his father's name on the Law Enforcement Center at the corner of Washington Street and Oglethorpe Boulevard.

The city commission has a policy in place to honor locals who "have demonstrated excellence, courage or exceptional service to the citizens of Albany; provided extensive community service; worked to foster equality and reduce discrimination; risked or given his or her life to save others; or made a significant contribution to a facility/building or park."

Outside of the above attributes, the only other criteria is that the honoree be deceased for at least two years before being considered. Johnnie Johnson died in 2000.

Johnson hasn't been the only person up for consideration for such an honor in recent memory.

Last year, the Dougherty County Commission allowed the family of D.J. Vinson, the Worth County native who drowned while attempting to rescue two young boys who were struggling to swim in the Flint River near Riverfront Park, to put a bench in the park which was subsequently named for him.

In 2008, Ward II City Commissioner Dorothy Hubbard put forth an effort to have the Law Enforcement Center named in honor of former Albany Police Chief Bob Boren. That effort was withdrawn when a review of the policy showed that Boren, who had only recently died, didn't meet the two-year requirement.