William Henry Johnson

William Henry Johnson

William Henry Johnson was born near Alexandria Virginia of free parents in 1833. He was a notable Abolitionist and crusader for the rights of African Americans. After a career including the underground railroad, organizing volunteers for the Union Army, political and social activism, he put together an autobiography. A copy of his autobiography are in the Pruyn Room of the Albany Public Library and in the New York State Library Archives.

Johnson left home in Virginia at the age of twelve to travel to Philadelphia where he learned the hair dresser trade. He came to Albany in 1851 where he immediately became involved in the underground railroad. He assisted Stephen Meyers in the work he was pursuing.

He returned to Philadelphia in 1855 where he continued his work as an abolitionist and activist with the underground railroad. He became involved in the Banneker Literary Institute and other organizations where he could write and speak against slavery. The work he was doing with fugitive slaves forced him to flee Philadelphia in 1859.

When the Civil War began he joined a Connecticut unit and participated in the Battle of Bull Run, Roanoke and Newberne. Johnson returned to Albany in 1864 where he began an involvement in local and state politics. He was a member of the NYS Equal Rights Committee and became its chairman from 1866-73. He drafted an amendment to the military code of NYS striking the word “white” from the document. This change was accepted in 1872. He drafted Civil Rights legislation that became law in 1867 and assisted in abolishing the property clause in the constitution that prevented many Blacks from voting. William Henry Johnson crusaded for and won in 1891 a bill that ended discrimination against African Americans in the insurance industry.

He continued an active career throughout his life until his death in 1918. By the time of his death he was a Grand Master in the Masons, had been a delegate to several Republican conventions, had published several newspapers including the Albany Capitol and produced his own biography

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