Mentors helped Johnson find success

Published 10:07 pm Monday, February 20, 2006

By By Janet Little Cooper
Atmore resident Lillian Johnson, can sometimes hear the voice of her former high school principal, Woodrow McCorvey as she walks down the halls of the former Escambia County Middle School and the Atmore Training School where she graduated from in 1963.
Johnson, who was born in Uriah, but moved to Atmore when she was three years old, remembers going to the all black school and the many people who influenced her life.
"Principal McCorvey believed in every child getting an education," Johnson said. "He made sure that we stayed in order from the time we left our parent's in the morning until we returned home in the afternoon."
Johnson's parents were her most influential mentors growing up. Her dad was a fireman at Swift Lumber for 50 years and worked in his own farm on the side. Her mother worked in the home.
"My daddy didn't care how white the cotton was," Johnson said. "You were going to school."
While Johnson was always in a black school growing up, her sister had to leave the training school to attend Escambia County High School in her senior year. The schools had been integrated at that time.
"I remember her coming home crying," Johnson said. "She would tell our mother about all the fighting and would just cry. I remember my mother telling her to go on about her work and mind her own business and that it would be over soon."
Johnson remembers the segregation of people outside the walls of the school, recalling life in town.
"The old Sweet Shop Caf/ did not allow blacks in to eat," Johnson said. "We had to go to the back door to get food and couldn't go inside to eat. I also remember the water fountains in town being marked 'Colored' and 'White'."
As a child Johnson questioned her parents about the actions taken against the blacks. Her parents told her to go on and those things would change and if life passed her a lemon to squeeze it and make lemonade.
Johnson has been making lemonade ever since. After graduating from the all black training school in Atmore, she went on to Faulkner State College where she earned an Associate of Arts degree in Criminal Justice.
She soon became one of the first blacks to be hired at Goodwill Manufacturing on Highway 21 in Atmore. She worked with Goodwill for two years. From there, she was hired at Masland Carpets where she has worked for 33 years.
"I went into Criminal Justice because I always like politics," Johnson said. "My plan was to work in the prison, but then when I got hired at Masland, I was more than happy with that job."
Five years ago, Johnson opened the Atmore Family Life Center, which offers after school tutoring and homework assistance.
Johnson was disheartened to see her former school sitting empty and felt the need to do something. She called Escambia County Alabama School Superintendent Buck Powell and got the B.O.E. approval to move forward with her plans.
"My only sister and former classmate of mine help me run the center," Johnson said. "We offer tutoring and homework help three days a week after school. I have six teachers from local schools that come in to help the kids. The students bring us their report cards and we focus on the subjects they need the most help in. We also feed them a full course meal before they go home."
Students are able to participate in art and dance classes on Wednesdays for extracurricular activities.
The center, which is run strictly by donations, reaches 75 to 90 children each week and more than 200 over the summer. The center offers a day camp program during the summer months.
Johnson's motivation comes in helping these students and people in general. She knows the importance of being a good mentor from her own personal experiences.
Johnson is also a member of Greater Mt. Triumph Baptist Church, a member of the ADC, and of AFLCIO Local 1882 Union and is the founder and president of the Yellow Hat Society. She enjoys being with people and being involved in her community.
She is pleased with how things have changed from the earlier days of segregation and discrimination, but believes that the progress is only 95 percent complete.
"There will always be people among us who will be prejudice," Johnson said. "Those people I call ignorant, but they will still be among us. While things are better, there is still room for progress. No body is perfect.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox