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Charles Johnson, 96; Former Player in the Negro Leagues

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Charles Johnson, 96, a former Negro League player who was credited with helping to pave the way for blacks to play in the major leagues, died Saturday of complications from prostate cancer.

After his playing career, Johnson worked to push major league baseball to offer pensions to former Negro League players. He also won an anti-discrimination lawsuit against Illinois Central Railroad in the mid-1960s after he was turned down for a special agent position, said his friend Steve Kirby.

Born in Pine Bluff, Ark., in 1909, Johnson moved to Chicago at 15. His mother died soon after, leaving her only child on his own. He found a friend in Negro Leagues legend Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, who helped get him into the league. Johnson mainly barnstormed the U.S. and Canada with independent teams.

When he married in 1942, his wife persuaded him to quit baseball. He worked at various jobs before taking a position as a porter with the railroad in the 1950s and became the first African American special agent after winning his lawsuit, Kirby said.

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