Hogansville’s first black mayor died Saturday in LaGrange. Willie Harold “Mike” Johnson was 79.
Johnson was born in 1933 to the late Mary “Mae” Johnson of Hogansville, where he was a lifelong member of St. Mary United Methodist Church and a graduate of West End High School.
“He was a strong leader in the community, and we shared similar ideals and thoughts for the city”, said Jimmy Jackson, the current mayor of Hogansville, who is also black. “He will be missed.”
Johnson was mayor from 1995 to 1997, during a life that was marked by his service to the community and the country.
Johnson married Annie W. Russell, his high school sweetheart. Because of Johnson’s service in the U.S. Army, the family often joked about how the children were born either in different states and countries. While Lucy and Julian, the oldest and youngest child, were both born in state of Georgia, Stanley was born in Japan.
Johnson enlisted in the Army in 1951, where he served in combat in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Johnson served in the U.S. Army’s last all black unit, the 95th Infantry Battalion, Company “B” at Fort Campbell, Ky. After almost 22 years of Honorable Service and with recognition of high skills and knowledge, he retired at the rank of Specialist-6 in 1973, and accepted civilian employment with the Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center in Atlanta. During his almost 25 years of service at the VA, he rose through ranks to become dietary supervisor. He retired from federal service in the 1990s.
His service would extend to his three sons, as Michael, Stanley, and Julian would serve in the Army, Air Force, and Navy, respectively.
Johnson found other ways to serve his community after retiring from active military. Inequality in city services was a concern for him and others in the early 1970’s and he and a group of men moved to establish the Community Men Club, a political advocacy organization, that pushed for improved city services for all. These efforts improved roads, contributed to employment diversity in the city, and helped charter the West Side Voter’s League.
Johnson also was a very active member of United Methodist Men’s Group at St. Mary Church, where took on leadership roles and often served as a delegate to annual conferences.
“He served in almost every role possible, except pastor,” said Charlie Frank Martin, a former city councilman and church member. Johnson also was an active member of the Mason Lodge No. 103 in LaGrange, where he achieved their highest honor of a 33rd degree.
His concern for youth led him to serve many years a Boy Scout troop leader. He had achieved Eagle Scout in his youth.
“He taught those boys how to respect others and depend on each other,” Martin said, and Johnson was a surrogate father to many.
The Rev. Bradell Martin called Johnson inspirational.
“People like him are hard to replace in the community,” she said.
After his retirement from the VA, Johnson opened Mike’s Elite Café, then later ran for and won the mayor’s office.
“He came back to his community, which was an inspiration and a role model for me,” Hogansville Police Chief Moses Ector said.
Johnson is survived by his wife of over 57 years, five children, nine grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and many other family and friends.
A homegoing service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Mary United Methodist Church in Hogansville.