Johnnie Johnson Awarded Congressional Gold Medal – by Bob Baugh

– Mrs. Francis Johnson at the National Blues Museum –

Johnnie Johnson’s extraordinary blues and jazz keyboard talents put his name in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But on Monday November 28, 2016, his outstanding military and civil rights service was recognized with the posthumous award of the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor.

In an awards ceremony held in the Legends Room at the National Blues Museum Senator Claire McCaskill presented Johnsons widow, Francis Johnson, with the Gold Medal. The medal is awarded to individuals “who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.” The Senator was a cosponsor of the legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to all Montford Point Marines who trained for duty at the segregated Montford Point facility at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

At the outbreak of WWII the US military and industry was segregated. A. Philip Randolph, the president of the Sleeping Car Porters Union, threatened a massive civil rights march to protest the continuing discrimination. President Roosevelt responded to the demand on June 25, 1941 by issuing Executive Order 8802 which created the Fair Employment Practices Committee to enforce a new rule, that “there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in the defense industry or government because of race creed color or national origin.” Johnnie Johnson, a West Virginia native, like so many other African Americans saw that order and he headed north to Detroit to work in the defense industry.

Breaking the color barrier in the military remained difficult. It took another year to even begin the recruitment of African Americans for service in the previously all white Marines. The recruits were assigned to their own segregated unit, the Montford Point Marines. They were not allowed to attend traditional boot camps nor enter the adjacent Camp Lejeune without a white marine escort. That didn’t matter to Johnnie Johnson. He was one of the first to sign up to serve his country.

L-R – Oliver Sain, Little Milton & Johnnie Johnson

In spite of the indignities and hardships of racial discrimination, the Montford Marines served with distinction in the Pacific theater and paved the way for the full end of discrimination. In 1948, President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 that called for full integration of the armed services and by 1949 Montford Point was deactivated. Johnnie Johnson was an inaugural member of the Montford Marines and served from 1942-1949. After the Marines St. Louis became his home as he continued his march to musical fame.

In presenting the medal Senator McCaskill said “Johnnie Johnson had traveled and seen the face of racism in many different ways, yet he signed up and said, ‘Take me, take me, I want to fight for my country,’ knowing what he was likely to encounter in a Marine Corps that hadn’t gotten used to the idea of African-Americans on the battlefield alongside white Marines,” said McCaskill. “This truly was an extraordinary man.


Francis Johnson beamed as she was presented the medal. She looked out at the room filled with Johnnies’ friends and admirers calling them “family.” She said “It really shows that Johnnie was more than what the average person thought they knew of a piano man … That he gave thought to his contribution to our country way back when it mattered, to become a pioneer …”

The St. Louis “family” shared Francis’s joy back and applauded the piano man’s well-deserved recognition. Johnnie Johnson really was, “Johnnie B. Goode,” a man who left his indelible mark on our music, culture and freedom.

Johnnie Johnson live in Austrailia – Real Good Woman

The Blues/Rock Piano of Johnnie Johnson

Johnnie Johnson and The Kentucky Headhunters
‘She’s Got To Have It’

An overview of the career of Johnnie Johnson

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction – 2001

Johnnie Johnson – from Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll 

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