Throughout his career Johnson remained active with various other endeavors. He has been a long-standing member of the board of trustees at Benedict College.
Attorney, legislator. Johnson was born in Columbia on May 16, 1942, the son of O. J. Johnson and Ruby Leevy. His maternal grandfather, Isaac S. Leevy, Jr., was a well-known African American undertaker in Columbia and prominent political activist. After graduating in 1960 from C. A. Johnson High School in Columbia, Johnson enrolled at the University of Minnesota, seeking to become a licensed mortician. Two years later he had completed all requirements for an associate of mortuary science (A.M.S.) degree. Johnson returned to Columbia and initially worked for his family’s undertaking business.
He resumed his education at Benedict College in Columbia and gained a bachelor of science degree in 1965. Although not the initial African American student to be admitted to the University of South Carolina Law School, Johnson became the first to complete its entire law curriculum while enrolled at the university. His various peers had transferred in 1965 after the closing of the law school at the South Carolina State College in Orangeburg. Johnson received his doctor of law degree in 1968. That same year, on July 6, he married Doris Wright of Columbia. The marriage produced two children.
While his relatives traditionally were well-known Republicans, in 1970 Johnson ran as a Democrat in a successful bid for the South Carolina House of Representatives. He was among the first three African Americans to serve in the General Assembly since the turn of the century. He was defeated for reelection in 1972, but regained his seat two years later. Throughout his tenure, Johnson represented District No. 74 in Richland County. He was a founding member of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus. In 1980 Johnson chose not to seek reelection for another term.
As a full partner within the Columbia law firm of Johnson, Toal & Battiste, Johnson gained a reputation as being among the best trial lawyers in South Carolina. He also became the first African American attorney to sit in the House of Delegates, the governing board of the South Carolina Bar Association. In June 1985, he was elected the South Carolina Bar’s first black president.
Throughout his career Johnson remained active with various other endeavors. He has been a long-standing member of the board of trustees at Benedict College. Johnson also was active in the South Carolina Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; the National Urban League; and the Columbia Luncheon Club, the first known interracial civic club in South Carolina. Johnson has been president of NUANCE Corporation, a firm that founded WOIC in Columbia, the state’s first radio station wholly owned by African Americans. He was inducted into the South Carolina Black Hall of Fame in 1993.
Johnson, I. S. Leevy. African American History in South Carolina Vertical Files. South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.