MINNEAPOLIS — On Monday, the University of Minnesota honored a pioneering civil rights leader, a woman who broke down barriers for so many women and people of color.
Dr. Josie Johnson is often called "Minnesota's First Lady of Civil Rights."
She is the latest recipient of the university’s prestigious Regents Award.
Dr. Johnson received the award Monday afternoon during a ceremony at the McNamara Alumni Center at the University of Minnesota.
For many of the attendees in the room, Johnson is a motherly figure, that’s fitting considering Johnson was first inspired by her own parents to start a career in community development and education.
"My parents who taught me to care about my community,” Johnson explains.
“I learned a lot from them.”
Johnson got involved with the civil rights movement as a teenager alongside her parents.
Friends say Johnson fought tirelessly for equity in housing, education and voting rights.
She later joined the faculty at the University of Minnesota as a professor in the College of Education.
She helped found the African American studies Department on campus and was the diversity director of the All-University Forum.
Johnson also led the university’s diversity efforts as the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs.
Johnson was also the first black person to join the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.
And now, years later, the university is thanking her for a lifetime of service.
While Johnson was honored to receive the award, at 92 years old she says sharing this moment with her family and her colleagues is an award in itself.
"It's a joy and a blessing to actually live long enough and be a part of that,” Johnson says.
Johnson’s name will be etched in stone outside the McNamara Alumni Center next to all the other recipients of the award.
The Regents Award was created in 1957 as a way to honor community and university leaders who have had a significant impact on the university.