By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A Minnesota civil rights leader is detailing her 70-year fight for justice in a new memoir. In “Hope in the Struggle,” Josie Johnson looks back on her extraordinary work.

WCCO sat down with the trailblazer about making a difference in divisive times.

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Whether through her work at the Minneapolis Urban League, a Minnesota representative in the March on Washington, or as the first African American on the U’s Board of Regents, Johnson’s fight for fairness can be traced to her teenage years in Texas.

(credit: Josie Johnson)

“I was born in San Antonio and raised in Houston,” Johnson said.

It’s where she worked alongside her father campaigning against the tax people once paid to vote. From parents to pastors, Johnson says she was brought up not to pat herself on the back, but instead with a message to be the best she could be.

“They gave you a belief that things were doable,” she said.

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It’s a foundation she followed in Minnesota when her husband moved for a job at Honeywell. Johnson spent the last 60 years on the front lines of changes in housing, education and employment.

“It was a part of my life. I couldn’t imagine not having that as something you did,” she said.

Her political work in the DFL party led to what she considers one of her best memories: In 2008 as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention, Johnson cast her vote for Barack Obama.

“It was an unbelievable moment. I never thought I’d live long enough to see the election of a black president,” Johnson said.

At 88 years old, Johnson is committed to the work that remains, convinced of the strength of ancestors – a history she believes young African Americans should better understand.

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“To try to give the support and belief that I received, to be sure they know who they are and for which they came, looking back will lead you to that future,” Johnson said.

Liz Collin