We are pleased to announce that filming is underway for a documentary about the life and legacy of Bishop Joseph Andrew Johnson Jr. Thanks to a grant from the Lily Endowment (via the Louisville Institute) and a matching grant from Vanderbilt University, Bishop Johnson’s life story will now be told in print and on the small screen.
The biography and documentary projects are led by Rev. Cynthia Johnson-Oliver, granddaughter of Bishop Johnson and founder of the Bishop Joseph Johnson History Project, which seeks to preserve the oral history, sermons, books, papers, and legacy of Bishop Johnson, and share his inspiring life story with a new generation. She is joined by producer Robin Mazyck and cameraman Denis Pacuraru as partners in the documentary project. Filming thus far has included interviews of Bishop Johnson’s descendants and other family members along with an interview of Bishop Othal Hawthone Lakey, author of The History of the CME Church. In late August, filming will take place at Vanderbilt University and at Capers Memorial CME Church, where Johnson served as pastor while attending Vanderbilt. Future filming will take place in northern Louisiana; Denver, Colorado; Memphis and Jackson, Tennessee; and at Phillips School of Theology at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
Bishop Johnson was the first African American to graduate from Vanderbilt University, receiving the Bachelor of Divinity in 1954. He was also the first African American to receive a PhD from the university (1958), and the first to serve as a full member of the university’s Board of Trusts (1971). Johnson was also a bishop in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, a civil rights advocate, and a pioneer in the field of black liberation theology. He is the author of The Soul of the Black Preacher, Proclamation Theology, and other works. In 1984, five years after his death, the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center was dedicated on Vanderbilt’s campus. Most recently, Bishop Johnson was posthumously named a distinguished alumnus of Vanderbilt Divinity School in 2014, and earlier this year, the Joseph A. Johnson, Jr., Distinguished Leadership Professor Award was created in his honor.
For more information and ongoing updates from the Bishop Joseph Johnson History Project, follow the history project blog and Facebook page. Contact Rev. Johnson-Oliver to share your memories about Bishop Johnson or to arrange an interview.
The Bishop Joseph Johnson History Project is grateful for funding from the Lily Endowment (via the Louisville Institute), Vanderbilt University, and Friends of the Bishop Joseph Johnson History Project.