Cheryl Janice Johnson

School Integrator, 1966-69, Mississippi
Current Residence: Asheville, NC

Trailblazer: Desegregating South Panola High School

I was among the first Black students to desegregate South Panola High School in Panola County, Batesville, Mississippi in 1966. There were 5 Black students in my graduating class of 1969. We were considered trail blazers by our community. Black people fought for better schools for their children so when the door opened, I walked through to make use of what so many before me had fought and sacrificed for. I was only 12 years old during Freedom Summer. I was too young to participate in that, but at 14, I could benefit from the fight for better schools.

I attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. and graduate school in California, where I obtained two graduate degrees. I retired from a career at the US Department of Justice in Washington, DC. My next career was teaching at a university and I am now retired from that.

I spend my time now excavating, documenting and presenting the hidden history of my community in Batesville, Mississippi. I produced an exhibit on the Macedonia Rosenwald School I attended grades 1-6. The exhibit is entitled, Education for Liberation. I successfully petitioned the state of Mississippi for a historical marker for the site where the school was located in the Macedonia Community. The exhibit is in booklet form for those who cannot go to Batesville.

I am active in the Panola County NAACP and before the COVID pandemic I was working on building the youth chapter of the Panola County NAACP.

I collaborated with Professor Lee Anne Bell Professor Emeritus of Barnard College and Markie Hancock, a film maker, to excavate and document the story of the first African Americans to integrate the white high school in Batesville, Mississippi in 1967-69. The documentary film is titled 40 Years Later: Now Can We Talk? I am working with members of the Macedonia Community to document their life stories as a legacy for their grandchildren. I facilitate dialogues on race and racism with community members both black and white who seem hungry for a space to engage on this topic.


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