In Memoriam: Clifton E. Johnson Sr.

Tonight, my mother called me to inform me about the death of our cousin, Clifton E. Johnson Sr. Cousin Clif was my grandmother’s half-first cousin. Clifton represents my McNair family branch of Martin County, NC (which was one of the reasons I adopted that county for the NCGenWeb project). The closest ancestor that I share with Clifton is my 2nd great-grandfather Andrew D. McNair. Andrew was his grandfather. Clifton, born December 9, 1941, died yesterday, June 25, 2009 while on a trip to Asheville, NC.  He was the son of Charlie Mack Johnson & Wille Ann (McNair) Johnson. Clifton was an accomplished lawyer and held several “firsts” in North Carolina’s judicial system. He was the  1st black lawyer to be appointed assistant prosecutor in NC /  1st black judge to sit on the NC Court of Appeals / & the 1st black judge to attain the position of senior associate judge on the NC Court of Appeals  

Clif was once featured in Ebony magazine, and thanks to Google’s digitization efforts, I was able to quickly find the issue he was in after my mother told me that he was in it and the approximate time frame.  He was included in an article in the March 1971 issue on black judges in the South. I am next going to try and figure out how to order a back issue so we can have it in physical print.

When I was in the 6th grade, we lived about 1 mile from Clif and his family, and his daughter and I were in the same classroom.   I did not know him before that year, and only saw him once since that year (1986-1987).  However, in June of 2007 I did have an opportunity to speak with him briefly about the family history as I was working on it then.  He was a very nice man and my thoughts are with his family. 

When I called Cousin Clif, I’d called specifically to inquire if he was aware of a person whom at the time suspected was part of our family tree, Dred Wimberly.  I’d hypothesized that Dred was the brother of our shared ancestor, Mariah Wimberly McNair.  Dred too was in law, having served on the NC General Assembly and the NC Senate.  Dred was a former slave of Kemp Plummer Battle (see my recent post) and I only had circumstantial evidence to connect him to my tree, though strong evidence.   When I’d found a picture of Dred and showed it to my mother, her reaction was “He looks just like Cousin Clif! Just like him!”

Well, now that I have a few pictures of Clif, I have to say that I agree and I believe this solidifies my theory that Dred was part of our family.  Dred would be Clif’s 2nd great-uncle, but I find the resemblance striking.  Here is Dred juxtaposed with two different pictures of Clifton.

On another interesting note, Clif swore in my stepmother’s uncle, Henry E. Frye, when Henry became Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court.  Tonight my thoughts are with Clif’s family. May you rest in peace Cousin Clif with our ancestors.

Relevant news items:

Comments (3)

  1. Craig Manson


    I’m very sorry to hear of the passing of Judge Johnson. I hope that his family finds peace at this time and that his legacy not be forgotten.

  2. Shirley B & Gerald Craig

    We the Bell family of Williamston N C and Stamford CT were sad to hear of the passing of Judge Clifton Johnson. Our prayers and love go out to the family. We the people of E.J.Hayes School were proud to learn of his accomplishments.

  3. Luckie

    I agree, the resemblance is striking – bloodlines run deep!

    May Clifton Johnson rest in peace.


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