By: Erica Fatima

“Sitting in the presence of greatness,” a phrase sometimes spoken cavalierly, was used exactly as intended when 87 year-old State Senator, Leroy R. Johnson , sat down to speak to a hushed crowd of students at Atlanta Public Schools’ Booker T. Washington High School, in February. Senator Johnson was the guest speaker and living legend, featured in The Heritage Project’s premier exhibit Georgia’s Great… African Americans of Historic Distinction.

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Left to right: Eleanor Kinlaw-Ross, Curator for the Heritage Project; Dr. Tasharah Wilson, Principal Booker T. Washington HS; GA Senator and APS alumnus, Leroy R. Johnson

Washington students were among the first to preview the 10-series exhibition that explores the contributions and profiles of Georgia’s Great Men & Women in Politics & Government, Science, Medicine, Arts & Entertainment, Civil Rights, Media, Literature, Sports, Military, Education, Business and the Activists/Abolitionists who became some of the most brilliant and prominent history makers in America.

“This is a great honor to speak to you today. To come back to Washington High School, and have the opportunity to encourage such wonderful students is a privilege,” stated Senator Johnson.


As the Senator shared riveting stories about his first days in the GA Senate to the heroic event in which he was able to secure a boxing license in Georgia for the great Muhammad Ali; Senator Johnson espoused the virtues of perseverance and faith to achieve any dream. “Don’t give up students, never quit! You are great and greatness is in you. Think about your dreams and goals, come up with a plan and then go for it!”

Senator Johnson, an alumni of Washington High School, (Class of ’45) is the first African American to sit in the Georgia Legislature and the first African American to be elected to political office in the southeast since the Reconstruction era. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College in 1949 and a master’s degree from Atlanta University (later named Clark Atlanta University) in 1951. He taught social science in the Atlanta school system from 1950 to 1954 before earning a law degree from North Carolina Central University in 1957.

About the Heritage Project

The Heritage Project has produced a highly successful roster of special events, historic celebrations, and media products to educate, enlighten and entertain audiences about the various facets of history and culture that have shaped the image and narrative of the African American experience and the African Diaspora– especially against the backdrop of its roots in the American South.12 wash hsIMG_7526

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