Glenn T. Johnson was a trailblazing judge in the latter half of the twentieth century. Born in Arkansas, he spent most of his professional life in Illinois, serving in a number of public positions in a career dedicated to public service. Johnson was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2006.
Glenn T. Johnson was born in Washington (Hempstead County) on July 19, 1917, to Floyd Johnson and Reola Thompson Johnson. As the family moved around the state, he received his early education Washington, then Hope (Hempstead County), and finally Hot Springs (Garland County), where he graduated from Langston High School. Johnson earned a BS from Wilberforce University in Ohio, graduating in 1941. After college, he served in the army, and after he was released from active duty, he continued to serve as a member of the U.S. Army Reserves. He would also later serve in the Illinois National Guard.
Following his military discharge, Johnson moved to Chicago, Illinois. There, he enrolled in the John Marshall Law School, from which he earned both an undergraduate law degree in 1949 and a master’s in law in 1950. Johnson also received additional professional training, graduating from the National College of State Trial Judges, while also completing the New York University Law School’s Appellate Court Judge Seminar.
Johnson served as an assistant attorney general for the State of Illinois from 1957 to 1963. This was followed by three years as the senior attorney for the Metropolitan Sanitary District of Greater Chicago. In 1966, he was elected associate judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County and, two years later, he was elected a full circuit judge, a post he held until 1973. On April 2, 1973, Johnson became the second African American to serve on the Appellate Court for Illinois for the First Division, a seat he held until his retirement in December 1994. One of his better-known cases involved a jury award to a man who was left a quadriplegic after plummeting over a forty-two-inch guard rail, falling twenty feet onto a crowded concourse at Chicago’s Soldier Field. Johnson upheld the $6.6 million jury verdict, affirming the decision that the conditions were unduly dangerous.
Johnson served as president of the Cook County Bar Association, while also being active in both the Illinois and National Bar Associations. He was chair of the Judicial Council of the National Bar Association, as well as chair of the Bench and Bar Section of the Illinois Bar Association. In addition, Johnson was a member of the World Judges Association. He was a loyal alumnus of John Marshall Law School, serving on the school’s board of trustees for twenty-five years.
Over the course of his career, Johnson earned a reputation as a particularly effective mentor to younger attorneys, with many of his clerks going on to judgeships and significant professional achievement. His alma mater named the law school’s chapter of the Black Law Students Association in Johnson’s honor. The recipient of numerous honors and much recognition over the course of his over three decades on the bench, Johnson was awarded the prestigious Heman Sweatt Award by the National Bar Association in 2008.
In 1948, Johnson married Evelyn F. Johnson, whom he had met in law school. Evelyn Johnson would also go on to be a judge, and the couple had two children. Two years after her death in 1991, he married Elaine Bailey Johnson. Retired and living in Chicago, Johnson died at home on November 30, 2010.
For additional information:
“Honorable Glenn T. Johnson.” Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. http://arblackhalloffame.org/honorees/honorable-glenn-t-johnson/ (accessed March 3, 2015).
“The Honorable Glenn T. Johnson.” The History Makers. http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/honorable-glenn-t-johnson (accessed March 3, 2015).
Margaret Ramirez. “Glenn T. Johnson, 1917–2010.” Chicago Tribune, November 30, 2010. Online at http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-11-30/features/ct-met-johnson-obit-1201-20101130_1_judge-johnson-joy-cunningham-judge-timothy-evans (accessed December 9, 2014).
William H. Pruden III