Mordecai Wyatt Johnson

Dr. Mordecai Wyatt Johnson
First African-American president of Howard University
for more than three decades

Date of birth:  December 12, 1890
Place of birth:   Paris, Tennessee


        Mordecai Johnson was born on December 12, 1890 in a small Southern town, Paris, Tennessee to former slaves, Wyatt and Carolyn. His father was a preacher and a mill worker.  He was a man who set rigorous standards for his son's chores and behavior.  Mordecai's mother was a "domestic," employed by one of the prominent families in town.  Mordecai had three step siblings: Jonas W., Dora, and Sallie.  Three years after Wyatt's first wife's death in 1885, he married Mordecai's mother, Carolyn Freeman.

        When he completed his grammar school education, he enrolled in Nashville's Academy of Roger Williams University in 1903.  The school was destroyed by fire in 1905.  Mordecai completed the term at the Howe Institute in Memphis.  Later that year, he entered the preparatory department of Atlanta Baptist College where he completed his high school studies.  During his college years, from 1907-1911, he was strongly influenced by Atlanta University President John Hope.

        Mordecai Johnson played football and tennis, was on the debating team, and sang in the glee club and chorus.  He was appointed to the faculty, where he taught history, economics, and English for two years.  He served as acting dean for the 1911-1912 academic year.

        Mordecai studied at the University of Chicago during the summers of 1912 and 1913, and received a second bachelor of arts degree in 1913.  He matriculated at the Rochester Theological Seminary from 1913-1916.

        Mordecai was pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Mumford, New York while at Rochester.  In 1916, he married Anna Ethelyn Gardner of Augusta, Georgia.  They had three sons and two daughters.  Mordecai was a secretary of the International Committee of the YMCA, working in the southwestern field from 1916-1917.  A year later, he became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charleston, West Virginia, and established a reputation as a brilliant orator and "community organizer."  In 1922 Harvard University presented to Mordecai the degree of Master of Science in theology.  In 1923 Howard University presented to him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity.  A similar degree was conferred upon him by the Gammon Theological Seminar in 1928.

        Mordecai was appointed the thirteenth and first African-American president of Howard University in 1926.  On June 10, 1927, Dr. Johnson delivered his Inauguaral Address as President of Howard University.  He held that position for thirty-four years.  Dr. Mordecai Johnson died in the year 1976.

        To find the book, Mordecai Johnson, the Man and his Message, visit

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