Black in Time

Late Miami doctor was a veteran worthy of our thanks

 
 
Dr. J. K. Johnson Sr. in his Army days.
Dr. J. K. Johnson Sr. in his Army days.

Special to The Miami Herald

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, an armistice went into effect, ending World War I.

It was 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, a historic date declared a holiday in many Allied nations. A year later, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson issued the proclamation establishing Armistice Day. After World War II, the name of the federal holiday was changed to Veterans Day, with the intent of thanking all who honorably served and serve in the military. Programs are held throughout the nation.

Posthumously, a native Miamian, the late Dr. James Kenneth Johnson, a pioneer medical doctor who served in World War II, will be among those thanked on Sunday, Nov. 10, at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. His is one of 75 names and photographs of veterans that will be placed permanently on a wall plaque at the church.

Johnson, affectionately known as “Dr. J. K.” and his late wife, Helen, relocated in 2007 to Bowie, Maryland, to be near their family, including their son, dentist J.K. Johnson, Jr., their daughter, retired educator Jewyll Johnson Wilson, five grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

At age 102, Dr. Johnson Sr. died March 13, and his funeral was held at St. Timothy’s. A month earlier, on Feb. 16, 2013, he attended the 13th Annual Buffalo Soldiers Memorial Banquet in Baltimore. The event was sponsored by The National Association for Black Veterans (NABVETS) 9th & 10th (Horse) Cavalry Association.

Dr. Johnson was nominated for recognition at the event by retired Lt. Col. Wilbert B. Forbes Sr., the awards ceremony’s presiding officer. Forbes is another native Miamian who lives in Maryland. A member of Miami Northwestern’s 1956 first graduating class, Forbes served in Vietnam. When asked why he nominated Dr. Johnson, Forbes replied, "His age and service captured my attention. It was a rare situation at that time (World War II) to have a black medical officer. ... I was also inspired by his medical practice in Miami."

Dr. Johnson and the lieutenant governor of Maryland, Anthony Brown were the honorary chairs this year. During the program Brown thanked Dr. Johnson and other patriots, past and present, for defending the United States.

Born in Overtown on Oct. 18, 1910, to pioneers Samuel David and Ida Ellen Roberts Johnson, James Kenneth Johnson, was the sixth of seven children. His siblings included two brothers: Dr. S. H. Johnson, Miami’s first black radiologist, and Frederick Johnson, accountant and teacher, and three sisters who were educators: Elaine Adderly, Roberta Thompson and my mother, Dorothy J. McKellar. All are deceased.

Dr. Johnson graduated from Booker T. Washington Junior/Senior High School, Tallahassee’s Florida A&M College and Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. After a residency at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis, he was drafted into the Army. A year later he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Medical Corps at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. According to his obituary he served overseas in Italy and Germany during World War II as a member of the 92nd Infantry Division. He was one of the famed Buffalo Soldiers and attained the rank of captain.

The 92nd Infantry Division was one of two all-black infantry divisions formed in World War II. Despite the fact that during that time, black soldiers were segregated by Jim Crow laws and customs, they fought to help defeat German forces who were occupying Italy.

Upon returning to Miami, Dr. Johnson opened a private family medicine practice in Overtown then Liberty City. A sole practitioner for more than 40 years in South Florida, he treated patients from Carver Ranches to Homestead. Along with other veterans, Johnson and Forbes will be thanked this Veterans Day nationwide.

Dorothy Jenkins Fields, PhD, is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to djf@bellsouth.net.

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