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First Southern University System Board chairman, community leader Lionel Johnson Sr. dies

Rev. Lionel Johnson Sr.
Rev. Lionel Johnson Sr.

Funeral services for the Rev. Lionel Johnson Sr., first chairman of the Southern University System Board, who died on Thursday, April 28. Johnson laid in state on Friday, May 13, at 4-7 p.m. at St. Joseph Baptist Church in St. Gabriel, Louisiana. On Saturday, May 14, services were held at First Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in St. Gabriel, viewing 8-10 a.m. and the funeral beginning at 10 a.m. Burial was at the Heavenly Gates Mausoleum in Baton Rouge.

Johnson, who was a Southern University and A&M College alumnus, was appointed to the newly formed system of Southern’s institutions in 1974 by then-Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards. Johnson was subsequently elected as chairman, a position he held for 10 years. At the time, the system included Southern University and A&M College and Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, Southern University at New Orleans, and Southern University Shreveport. The Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center was established as a fifth system institution in 2001.

“The Southern University System family extends our condolences and prayers to Rev. Johnson’s family, former colleagues and others who knew him well,” said Ray L. Belton, president of the Southern University System and chancellor of Southern University and A&M College. “Rev. Johnson’s service to our institutions was part of a great trajectory, forming Southern into the first system of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the nation. He was the epitome of a servant-leader not only for Southern but also for his community. While his physical presence will be missed by many, his contributions will live on through countless more for years to come.”

Among Johnson’s other appointments:

  • Appointment by Gov. Edwards as a member of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

  • Appointments by Gov. Dave Treen and Gov. Edwin Edwards, respectively, to the Governor’s Special Commission on Educational Services (now Office of Student Financial Assistance) as member and chair.

  • Appointed by Gov. Edwin Edwards as an inaugural alderman for the Town of St. Gabriel and subsequently elected by the people.

  • Appointment by the Iberville Parish Police Jury as a member and vice-chair of the Iberville Parish Charter Commission.

  • Appointment by Iberville Parish School Board as a member and chair of the Zero Tolerance Commission.

Johnson, who served 28 years as chief administrative deputy of the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office, founded and became president of the Iberville Coalition of Black Peace Officers. He was also a founding member and president of the East Iberville Community Complex Incorporated, which is now the site of the current St. Gabriel City Hall. He was a member and first Black president of the Capital Economic Development District Council, which included the parishes of Ascension, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberville, Livingston, Point Coupee, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Washington, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana.

Johnson, who was also an English teacher for eight years in East Feliciana Parish, was a pastor for more than 36 years at three churches — Third Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Sunshine, Louisiana; St. Joseph Baptist Church in St. Gabriel, Louisiana; and Greater Ebenezer Baptist Church in Plaquemine, Louisiana.

In addition to his bachelor’s degree in English from Southern, Johnson received a master’s degree in curriculum development from the State University of New York at Albany. He was also an alumnus of the Law Enforcement Basic Training Academy at Louisiana State University.

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