Judge Clifton Johnson

Judge Clifton Johnson

Born in Williamston, NC on December 9, 1941, Judge Johnson was one of nine children born to Charlie Mack and Willie Ann McNair Johnson. He was a graduate of the former E.J. Hayes High School of Williamston.  He earned his undergraduate degree and Juris Doctorate from North Carolina Central University.

In 1969, he made history in being the first African American hired as an Assistant State Prosecutor for North Carolina since the 19th century.  He subsequently became the first African American District Court Judge of Mecklenburg County in 1969. Judge Johnson was North Carolinas first African American Chief District Court Judge in 1974 and the first African-American Resident Superior Court Judge for North Carolina in 1977.  In 1978 he was one of two African-Americans first elected to a statewide office in North Carolina.  He was appointed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals in 1982. He rose to the rank of Senior Associate Judge of the North Carolina Court of Appeals.  While on the Appellate Court, Judge Johnson served as the state's first African-American Chairman of the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission. He retired from the bench at the end of 1996. In May 2008, he again became part of the judiciary as a Recall Judge of the state's Court of Appeals and as a North Carolina Emergency Superior Court Judge.

In addition to breaking historic barriers and selflessly serving his community, Judge Johnson devoted himself to helping other do the same by actively working to facilitate the recruitment, hiring, retention and promotion of diverse individuals in the legal profession. In 1974, Judge Johnson hired North Carolina's first African American court reporter. Johnson later hired the first African American Executive Assistant in the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

While attending a Superior Court Judges conference in the summer of 2009 Judge Johnson suffered an unexpected heart attack and passed on the evening of June 25. He was preceded in death by his wife of 43 years, Brenda Joyce Johnson. He is survived by his children: Yulonda Ervin, Clifton Johnson II, Khiva Johnson and Understanding Knowledge Allah Ali; and nine grandchildren.

It is through his many achievements that Judge Johnson helped promote the ideals of diversity and facilitate the inclusion of minorities within the legal profession. His dedicated service to the legal profession and selfless character embodied high ethical standards, unquestioned integrity and consistent competence. For these reasons Judge Clifton E. Johnson has been selected, posthumously, as the recipient of the 2010 Julius L. Chambers Diversity Champion Award.