Raymond L. Johnson Sr. dies at 89; lawyer, civil rights activist

Raymond L. Johnson Sr., an attorney, civil rights activist and former Tuskegee Airman, died Dec. 31 in Los Angeles of complications of pneumonia and heart failure, said his wife, Evelyn. He was 89.

Johnson, who practiced law for nearly 50 years, was a leader of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People in the 1960s and 1970s. After the 1965 Watts riots, he provided free legal assistance to African Americans who were wrongfully arrested during the disturbances. He sought redress for those who were convicted without adequate legal counsel and lost homes and jobs while they were in jail.

An expert on medical legal issues, he worked to eliminate discriminatory hiring practices in hospitals. He also was involved in the creation of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital in South Los Angeles.

Born in Providence, R.I., on July 31, 1922, Johnson was a student at Howard University when World War II started and he was drafted into the U.S. Army. After scoring high on an examination for pilot training, he was admitted to the first cadet program for African American military pilots in Tuskegee, Ala., and completed the training but was barred from combat duty after contracting rheumatic fever. He was later honorably discharged.


He was among 300 Tuskegee Airmen to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

After the war, Johnson completed his undergraduate degree at Howard and became a medical technologist. He opened a diagnostic medical laboratory in Washington and later supervised the hematology department at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland.

In 1953 he entered Howard University Law School. As a member of the Howard law review, he assisted Thurgood Marshall, the civil rights attorney who later became a U.S. Supreme Court justice, during preparations for the historic Brown vs. Board of Education case that found school segregation unconstitutional.

After earning his law degree in 1957, he moved to Los Angeles and served as legal counsel at a number of local hospitals.


In addition to his wife of 61 years, Johnson is survived by their children, Raymond Jr., Robert and Marjorie Johnson Warren; and three granddaughters.

A service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Holman United Methodist Church, 3320 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles.

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