Nellie Stone Johnson was a labor, civil rights and political activist from Minneapolis who influenced many people and movements during her long life.
Stone Johnson's activism began when she was quite young, distributing fliers for her father on her way to and from school. One of her first jobs was at the exclusive (all white - all male) Minneapolis Athletic Club. When the club's Board of Directors decided to cut the employees' wages, Stone Johnson responded by organizing the workers into a labor union. This was the start of a life-long commitment to working for labor rights and civil rights.
She proceeded to become the first woman in the nation to serve on national contract negotiations committee where she worked on a variety of issues, including pay equity.
Her many other contributions include:
- More than 60 years of activism with the NAACP;
- First African-American to hold citywide office in Minneapolis;
- Served two terms on the Democratic National Committee;
- Owned and operated "Nellie's Alterations" for 30 years; and
- Has a scholarship for minority students from union families named in her honor.
Nellie was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate degree for her numerous achievements and contributions.
Born in December 1905, in Lakeville, Minn., to Gladys and William Allen, she and her six siblings grew up on a dairy farm near Hinckley, Minn. Stone Johnson's father was a member of the Non-Partisan League, a radical rural organization. Her mother was a former school teacher with an interest in political philosophy.
At age 13, she distributed Non-Partisan League fliers on her way to and from school. She graduated from Hinckley High School and attended the University of Minnesota. For more than 30 years, she supported herself by operating Nellie's Alterations in downtown Minneapolis.
The "Nellie Stone Johnson Scholarship" was founded in 1989. It is awarded annually to minority students from union families. In 1995, she received an honorary doctorate degree from St. Cloud State University.
Nellie Stone Johnson was the inspiration for one of the nameless bronze sculptures, titled "Shadow Spirits," by artist Ta-Coumba Aiken and Seitu Jones. The statues represent individuals who contributed to the development of Minneapolis. The statues are symbolic of persons who disappear or are omitted from the pages of our history.
Stone Johnson's many contributions were featured in the book "Contributions of Black Women to Minnesota History".
More on Nellie Stone Johnson: