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Home North Carolina Scotland County City of Wagram Historical Markers Gerald Johnson 1890-1980

Gerald Johnson 1890-1980

Main Street, Wagram, NC, USA

Latitude & Longitude: 34° 53' 24.252", -79° 21' 50.2848"
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"Journalist and author. Progressive observer of the South and politics. Moved to Baltimore in 1926. Born 1 mile E."
     Born at Riverton in 1890 and educated at Wake Forest College, journalist Gerald White Johnson, long prominent on the national stage, was at the center of a Southern liberal-progressive strain of thought. Prior to World War I service, Johnson started his newspaper career by founding, at age twenty, a newspaper in Thomasville. Subsequently, he worked at papers in Lexington and Greensboro until 1924, when he joined the journalism faculty at the University of North Carolina. During his tenure there, he worked with President Harry Woodburn Chase to defeat anti-evolution bills in the state legislature.

     In 1926 Johnson moved to Baltimore, working for the Baltimore Sun as a columnist and editorial writer. Despite diametrically opposed personal and political philosophies, he was a longtime friend of H. L. Mencken, the “sage of Baltimore,” and was often called “Baltimore’s second sage.” His liberal and humanist philosophies ultimately caused him to part company with the Sun in 1943. For the rest of his life he devoted his energies to freelance writing.

     Johnson published forty-two books, including biographies, essays, commentaries on the American scene, and fiction. He served as a speechwriter for Adlai Stevenson’s presidential campaigns and wrote for The New Republic from 1954 until his death. Johnson always regarded himself as a journalist rather than historian, writing that “the historian writes authoritatively, for posterity; the journalist writes speculatively, for today . . . . The historian is the priest; the journalist is his acolyte; but they are, or should be, both servants of the truth.” A member of Phi Beta Kappa, Johnson was awarded numerous honorary degrees. He received the North Carolina Award for Literature in 1965. Upon his death on March 22, 1980, obituaries appeared in newspapers across North Carolina and the nation. Fred Hobson in 1982 wrote that Johnson “covered each decade of the 20th century, both as journalist at the time and as historian in retrospect, more thoroughly perhaps than any other American.”

(Charles Blackburn), pamphlet prepared for North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame induction (1996)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, III, 289-290—sketch by Memory Mitchell
Fred Hobson, “Gerald W. Johnson: The Southerner as Realist,” Virginia Quarterly Review (Winter 1982): 1-25
Wake Forest: The University Magazine (Spring 1980)—Gerald Johnson memorial issue
Vincent Fitzpatrick, Gerald W. Johnson: From Southern Liberal to National Conscience (2002)

Gerald Johnson 1890-1980 Historical Marker Location Map, Wagram, North Carolina