Dark clouds and a heavy downpour followed me to the house on Taylor Street near downtown Acworth. What a pleasant surprise to be greeted in the driveway by Mr. Claude Johnson and an umbrella. Inside, Mrs. Willie Mae Johnson welcomed me warmly, like a longtime friend. Both were a fine example of southern hospitality, a bright light on such a dreary, wintry day. Their lovely home of 54 years reminded me of my grandparents’. Every wall displayed pictures of family and friends, and treasured mementos adorned tabletops and shelves.
We were seated in their cozy den when I asked them to talk about their life experiences and longtime Acworth residency. With a soft southern drawl, Mrs. Johnson said she moved from Marietta to Acworth at age 8, after the death of her parents. Her grandparents, Lizzie and William Cicero (Bud) Furr, raised her, and she attended Rosenwald School. Her aunt and uncle operated Lucy Mae and Price Oliver’s café, where she met her future husband when they were teenagers. He walked her home and a courtship began. They married 65 years ago when they were ages 16 and 17. Their son, Claude Johnson, Jr. (Ronnie), lives in Acworth.
Mr. Johnson grew up on a farm in the Mars Hill area, where his father was a sharecropper. The farm sustained their large family of 13 children. He attended Rosenwald School through the eighth grade until his father asked him to quit and go to work. Mr. Johnson developed a strong work ethic, which has served him well.
Mr. Johnson had two careers. He worked 18 years in food services for a company associated with Lockheed-Marietta, where he retired as a cook in 1971. In 1972, he began working as head of shipping and receiving for Hewlett-Packard, where he remained until he retired in 2000.
A dutiful wife and mother, Mrs. Johnson worked as a domestic services worker for several Acworth families. Her eyes lit up as she reflected on the meaningful relationships she developed in those years. A woman of faith, she enjoys attending Bible study at their church. Her sweet spirit radiates peace and joy.
In 1963, when youth sports programs were segregated, Mr. Johnson organized Acworth’s first African-American baseball team. The city provided uniforms and equipment for the Acworth Warriors, who played on the field in the Coats & Clark Mill village, and traveled to northwest Georgia cities to play other African-American teams. Mr. Johnson proudly showed me the jersey he was given in appreciation for his leadership. He was honored by the City of Acworth during Black History month in 2012.
Throughout their lives, the couple has volunteered in the community and church. Mrs. Johnson was vice president of Roberts School PTA and taught Sunday school, while Mr. Johnson, a deacon for 40 years, drove the church bus taking students to Zion Hill Missionary Baptist. It was there, during a prayer service seven years ago, Mr. Johnson, as he stated, “died.” Thanks to the quick response from emergency medical technicians, and a lot of prayer, he survived. He freely shares his near-death experience, and his miraculous recovery.
The honorary title of Mayor of Logan Farm was given to Mr. Johnson in recent years. He humbly shrugged his shoulders when I asked him about the recognition. It’s most likely because of his many contributions to the Acworth community, his deep love for the city’s residents, or perhaps because his home overlooks Logan Farm Park. While that may qualify him, Mr. Johnson is best known for a very meaningful, yet simple practice. He sits in front of his house and waves at passersby.
He simply smiles and waves. Many cars, bikes and walkers travel Taylor Street heading to Logan Farm Park. Members of the community, who were once strangers, are now friends and visit him, bringing flowers or baked goods. The Johnsons especially enjoy visits from children, since they have no grandchildren. One couple, who frequently drove their golf cart down the Johnson’s street, stopped to introduce themselves. Now the four are fast friends, visiting frequently and riding the golf cart around town.
Last year, this couple planned a surprise party for the Johnsons’ 65th wedding anniversary. The Johnsons were overcome by such a thoughtful and generous gift from their new friends. Mrs. Johnson said the party was beautiful and special, and that she felt undeserving. However, no one deserves such a blessing more than the Johnsons. They reaped what they had sown into others throughout their lives.
When asked for advice to young couples considering marriage, Mrs. Johnson said: “Keep a clear mind and have no secrets between you.” Mr. Johnson said, “Do right, live right.”
When traveling down Taylor Street, look for Mr. Johnson and offer him a smile and wave. This exceptional couple has inspired me to be more mindful of how simple acts of kindness impact others.
As we said our goodbyes, Mr. Johnson said, “Y’all come now.”
– Vicki E. Davis