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Black History Month: ‘We are all God’s children. It doesn’t matter what color or race you are.’

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By James Roberts

Integration was an adjustment but not a problem for James Johnson.

Johnson was just 8 years old when schools integrated and he moved from Durham School to Campbellsville.

"It took some getting used to," Johnson said. "It was kind of scary at the start. I had never really been around white people before. After the first year, I just sort of blended in."

Being so young, Johnson, now 53, didn't fully understand what was going on. Growing up, he knew there were certain places he wasn't allowed to go because he was black, but that was as deep as his understanding of segregation went.

Johnson said his parents taught him and his siblings a simple way to get along with everyone.

"They've always taught us to treat people like you would want to be treated. At school, they told us to be polite, nice and do what the teacher said. I was just a humble kid. I never had any problems.

"We are all God's children. It doesn't matter what color or race you are. It doesn't make any difference to him."

Johnson grew up in Campbellsville on Brown's Court. His father, Bobby, was a local mechanic and his mother, Fannie, cleaned houses. Johnson had three younger siblings - Gary, Sherita and Rhonda.

At home, Johnson was the overseer of his brother and sisters because he was the oldest. The Johnson house was a Christian home and the kids were raised under those principles. The family was poor, Johnson said, but he and his siblings never knew the difference.

"We didn't have much, but we didn't know. We enjoyed what we had."

Johnson spent June 1973 through June 1977 in the U.S. Army. In 1975, he married Joyce Hendrickson. For the next two years, he was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. It was there that the Johnsons' only child was born, a son named Corey.

With its flat lands dominating the landscape, Texas was quite a change for Johnson.

"There was a big difference [from Campbellsville]. I was 18 or 19 at the time and I really hadn't been anywhere."

Returning to Campbellsville in 1977, Johnson began working at Fruit of the Loom. He was there for about a year before getting a job at Ingersoll-Rand.

To date, he's been there for 31 years, working his way up from painter to material handler. As material handler, Johnson supplies the assembly lines. Johnson said he plans to retire from Ingersoll-Rand.

Outside of his job, Johnson stays busy.

As a deacon at Pleasant Union Baptist Church, Johnson visits the sick, helps Pastor Michael Caldwell when needed and performs several other tasks.

"We are put on the earth to serve people," Johnson said about his role in the church.

Johnson has attended Pleasant Union for 25 years and joined the church about seven years ago.

In 1990, Johnson started farming, something he had wanted to do since childhood.

Johnson's grandfather, George Johnson, was a farmer and, growing up, Johnson spent as much time on the farm as he could.

"He was a big influence on my life," Johnson said. "I was always excited about getting out and helping him. I enjoyed being outdoors."

Johnson has 42 acres on which he grows tobacco and produces hay. A few years back, when tobacco buyout discussions began, Johnson considered getting out but opted to stick with tobacco. And, he says, he'll continue to farm part time when he retires from his public job.

With a full-time job, family and church responsibilities, Johnson said farming takes on a smaller, but very important role in his life.

"I just try to fit it in. I saw that [my grandfather] had a good life. You have a lot of time to yourself. There is just enjoyment in being out in the field, being your own boss."

u Staff Writer James Roberts can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 226 or by e-mail at writer@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.