Schooled in the Triad: Yvonne Johnson, Bennett College

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Yvonne Johnson
Yvonne Johnson

by Kelly Fahey

Yvonne Johnson, Greensboro’s first African-American mayor, has spent her entire life in Greensboro. She grew up on what was once A&T’s farm on Market Street, is now owned by the tobacco giant Lorillard.

Her uncle, WL Kennedy, owned the farm and paid for her education at Bennett College. He was the first African-American to receive a PhD in dairy science.

Johnson went on to graduate in 1964. Her time spent at Bennett is very precious to her.

“I liked the sisterhood, and I liked the fact that Bennett was steeped in social justice,” she informed me as we sat in her office.

This atmosphere of social justice acted like a beacon to a young African-American woman living in the South during a time of segregation and social upheaval.

Still, despite the challenges faced, Johnson has only good memories from her time in college in Greensboro.

“I loved the small classes and the attention we received from our professors,” said Johnson.

Johnson was heavily involved in the Bennett community during her time spent as a student. Her extracurricular activities included singing in the choir, leading a Girl Scout group and participating in student government.

Johnson attended Bennett under its first female president, Willa B. Player. She recalls that Player was extremely supportive to the student body during a time when sit-ins and marches were commonplace.

Even after her time at Bennett has passed, Johnson remains involved with the university. She was chair of the board of trustees for 10 years, and continues to appear in front of the student body.

“Anytime they ask me to come bring greetings or speak, I can’t remember saying no. They were so important to me.”