The Rev. Clarence Johnson is the outgoing president of the Reidsville Chamber of NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, and the long-time pastor of Elm Grove Baptist Church, although he plans to retire in August.
Johnson also serves as the North Carolina NAACP District 5 director and plays the role of liaison between five area branches and the state office.
Reidsville’s NAACP branch was organized in 1947 and its first president was A.D. Owens.
The branch holds significant history in the area as Owens initiated a school desegregation campaign in Reidsville and also worked to secure positions for African Americans on the local police force, according to a book entitled “Race, Labor and Civil Rights” by Robert Samuel Smith.
Johnson said that during his tenure, he has seen a lot accomplished regarding diversification of city, county and elected officials.
As the president, Johnson “always tries to stay up-to-date with statewide issues like healthcare, unemployment, teacher salaries and more.”
“The NAACP is an organization that believes in civil rights and justice for all people,” Johnson said. “We are sometimes labeled as an organization that focuses solely on the Black community, but we are not.”
To Johnson, Black History means continuing the agenda of bringing about civil rights to the local community.
“I’m community-minded and I’m about bringing the Reidsville community together in unity,” he said. “This month is also about keeping Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream alive and at the forefront. Look how far we’ve come.”
Johnson said during February, he looks forward to the Black History programs organized by numerous local churched. His church, Elm Grove, observes each Sunday of the month by having Black History moments during its services.
“We try to teach the young people and educate them about our accomplishments to motivate them,” he said. “We want them to know that they have no excuse to not rise and become whatever they want to.”
Johnson’s most memorable moment during his tenure was last year at the First annual Willie Boyd and Spencer Gwynn Memorial Scholarship Service.
“We held this event in honor of two men who made very large contributions to the history of our city,” he said.
Gwynn and Boyd led movements to make sure African American employees had the opportunity to advance at local companies, according to Johnson.
As a first generation college graduate in his family, Johnson believes that “education is the key to success.”
“I went to college and then my children went to college,” he said. “My grandchildren went to college.”
Johnson graduated from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University with a degree in electrical engineering before he was called to become a preacher in 1975, then a pastor in 1980.
“I feel like I have led some great works in the community and I believe I’m leaving the organization in good hands,” Johnson said.
Jeff Crisp was elected to succeed Johnson as president.