GRAMBLING, La. (KNOE) - Dr. Joseph Benjamin Johnson, Grambling State University’s third president died Tuesday after a lengthy illness.
Johnson, a longtime favorite president who served from 1977 until 1991, succeeded Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones, who served Grambling from 1936 until he retired. Johnson, who fought to save the school from financial failure as state and other challenges threatened its existence, led student enrollment growth from 2,600 to a record-setting 7,000-student enrollment.
“We have lost an iconic leader who elevated the standing of Grambling State University across the globe,” said GSU President Rick Gallot. “I remember Dr. Johnson’s fierce resolve to protect and enhance our school. He was my president when I was a student, and he served as a mentor and advisor very early in my tenure as president.”
Johnson pushed for and got a September 8, 1981 consent decree between the State of Louisiana and the U.S. Department of Justice. He worked with Lamore Carter, vice president and provost, and attorney Thomas N. Todd to research and prove that Grambling deserved greater support. That effort resulted in new campus building construction, employee raises, and new academic programs, including the creation of the School of Nursing in 1983 and the first doctoral developmental education program in 1984.
Once he left Grambling State in 1991, ending 14 years of leadership at his alma mater, he became president of Talladega College and served there until he retired in 1998.
Before Johnson was Grambling State’s leader, he was a student at the school. When he signed on to play in 1954 he played basketball under Eddie Robinson, who coached basketball and football at the time, playing alongside some of Grambling greats, something that Johnson would joke about from time to time.
Johnson was a member of a number of civic, professional and social organizations, including Phi Delta Kappa and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. He and his wife, the late Lula Young Johnson, are the parents of four adult children, Yolanda Johnson Dixon, an attorney and Assistant Secretary of the Louisianaa Senate, and triplets – Julie, a medical doctor; Juliet, a Fisk University administrator, and Joseph III, an actuary and financial analyst. He was the son of the late Lillie M. Johnson and the late Sidney T. Johnson of New Orleans.
At Johnson’s request, the Johnson family said there will not be a funeral service, according to Gallot, who said GSU will honor Johnson soon.