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Retired Altus teacher to be inducted into hall of fame

ALTUS, Okla._A former Altus educator will be recognized this month for his accomplishments with the school district.

Jessie Johnson will be inducted into the Oklahoma African American Educators Hall of Fame. Johnson worked for Altus Public Schools for 44 years and wore many hats. Aside from being a teacher, he also served as a counselor, and coached basketball, baseball and softball until he retired in 2000. He has made an impact that his previous students won't forget which is why many of them still talk with him today.

He was the first African American teacher at what's now known as Altus Junior High. Throughout his career he has helped to create sports teams including girls' fast-pitch softball, and those are just some of the things his previous students commend him on.

Larry Madden is one of the several students who still keep in contact with Jessie Johnson. They first met when Johnson was organizing a little league team. Before, Madden says he and other students didn't have many activities.

"He took me off the street, took me out of the back yard, off the sidewalk. He taught me how to be good in sports, and how to have sportsmanship, and how to be a person," said Madden.

Johnson credits his love and passion for teaching from the way he was taught by his uncle and a coach he had while growing up. He first started in Altus at the all-black Lincoln High School in 1956, teaching social studies and coaching the boys' basketball and baseball teams.

"We had pride. You know that's the way it was. We made do with what we had," said Johnson.

In 1966, Johnson moved to what was then known as Southeastern Junior High when Altus Public Schools finally became integrated. He said his biggest concern was helping his students with the adjustment to the new environment.

"Everything was new. They look up and see somebody white teaching them math, English and social studies," said Johnson.

He then moved once more and settled into Altus High School in 1974. Johnson says he wasn't fazed much by the change, and continued to work hard as the school's counselor and the boys' basketball and girls' fast-pitch softball coach.

It's because of his efforts that several of his previous students have banded together to get him inducted into the Oklahoma African American Educators Hall of Fame. Johnson says his whole attitude changed once he received the phone call.

"Oh I unbuttoned a couple of buttons on my shirt. I stuck my chest out. Then they gave me a list of some of the people that were there, the members and people that had been inducted prior. And I knew some of them so that made me feel good," said Johnson.

Jessie Johnson will be inducted with nine others at the Oklahoma History Center on September 26 in Oklahoma City.


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