“Today was touching and I am so happy,” said Royceann Porter, the board’s vice chairperson, in a statement. “It was amazing to include Lulu Merle Johnson’s family in the recognition. I look forward to taking students to Gravity for the annual civil rights trip so they can learn more about her legacy.”
Lulu Merle Johnson, born in Iowa in 1907 to a father who had been born into slavery, was a student at the University of Iowa in 1925 — one of only 14 Black women at the school at that time. By 1930, she went on to get her master’s degree from the school, too, and spent a decade teaching at the university while working toward her PhD, which she received in 1941. She went on to lead a long career as an academic, teaching history, and eventually becoming the dean of women at Cheyney University in Pennsylvania.
Richard Mentor Johnson, who served as the ninth vice president of the US under President Martin Van Buren, was a slave owner his entire life, according to the county. He credited himself for killing Shawnee Chief Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames in 1805. The county was named after him by the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature in 1837, despite his lack of connection to the area.
“Richard Mentor Johnson does not embody the values, ideals, and morals of the people of Johnson County,” the resolution for the name change states. “The Johnson County Board of Supervisors is committed to rectifying systemic racism and institutional inequity, including removing names and monuments that memorialize or honor a person who has perpetuated violence against Black people, Indigenous people, and other nonwhite people.”