Award Profile: Dr. Cureton L. Johnson ’71

Dr. Cureton L. Johnson ’71

2022 Lassiter Lee McKissick Sr. Walker Trailblazer Award

The Rev. Cureton L. Johnson was born and raised in Raleigh. But when he arrived at UNC, the Black Student Movement became his “family” on campus.

Johnson enrolled at Carolina in 1967, when he said Black students comprised fewer than 2 percent of the University’s enrollment.

“We really needed each other to survive,” Johnson said. “The Black Ink newspaper that I initiated for the BSM was my passion. It gave voice to my love for justice, human rights and dignity for Black people — and writing! That ‘voice’ has been with me for life as I continue publishing articles into my 70s.”

Johnson, recipient of this year’s James L. Lassiter, J. Kenneth Lee, Floyd B. McKissick Sr. and James R. Walker Trailblazer award, is proud to have started Black Ink, which is still being published today.

And that’s just one of many achievements for which he’s being recognized.

“Cureton Lee Johnson was truly successful because he blazed a trail so that others, such as I, could negotiate UNC with few obstacles,” said Dr. Ernest J. Goodson, ’76 (’79 DDS.) “He enrolled at the University in 1967 and was among the early African Americans to graduate with a BA in Journalism in 1971.”

Goodson cited Johnson’s founding of Black Ink and serving as BSM president, saying he played a positive role in the lives of Black students living for the first time in a white cultural center.

“His life as a minister did not stray far from his life as a student,” Goodson said. “Today, he is one of the leading African American social justice advocates in the Southeast region of North Carolina. He has effectively used the power of his pen, the power of his church, the power of his voice and, most importantly, the power of God to effect social change in the region and this state. His work serves as a model for all citizens seeking to advance the lives of poor and disadvantaged people.”

Johnson is pastor emeritus of First Missionary Baptist Church in Fayetteville. For 28 years he led the congregation as they advanced issues including HIV/AIDS prevention and education, world peace and anti-war efforts, workers’ rights at the Smithfield Packing Plant in Tar Heel and voter registration drives. The church also provides a clothes closet for needy people and conducts a free summer reading camp for youth and houses and feeds homeless people in the Fayetteville area.

The Rev. David Emmanuel Goatley, the Ruth W. and A. Morris Williams Jr. research professor of theology and Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School, recommended Johnson without reservation.

“Dr. Johnson’s life makes him an exemplar of what an alumnus of the University can be and a model of a Black alumnus worthy of recognition and replication,” Goatley said. “He is a Black alumnus who paved the way for African Americans during the first 20 years of integration at Carolina.”

The Hon. Donnie Hoover ’71, a retired N.C. Superior Court Judge and classmate of Johnson’s, said since his freshman year at least, Johnson has been a leading advocate for social justice. Moreover, he said, Johnson “has successfully used everything at his disposal, from his pen to his pulpit and his faith in God to advance the causes of the poor and disadvantaged throughout this country.”

Johnson said he is honored to receive the Trailblazer Award because he knew he Rev. Floyd McKissick Sr., one of the persons after whom it’s named.

“I had a lot of respect for his pioneering civil rights activity, and so I feel so honored to get an award that bears his name,” Johnson said. “He was a great social justice trailblazer, and I’ve been glad to be a trailblazer, in a small way, in social justice. I’m dedicating this award to all of the BSM students who were active in the cafeteria workers strike in 1969 because I feel they were pioneers as well as I was. That’s not to minimize what I’ve done, but without them, I wouldn’t have been much of an editor, just like a quarterback wouldn’t be much without his offensive line.”

Johnson said his wife, Lena, the love of his life, has been a wonderful partner through everything he’s done and accomplished. The couple will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on June 30, 2023.