The year Ella Mae Johnson was born, Theodore Roosevelt was president of the United States, the New York City subway system had been open only a few months, and the first Buick automobile was purchased.
American life was evolving and modernizing, but not everyone was experiencing such progress. Johnson, who is African American, was born into a time of racial segregation, but over the last century, she has lived to see change. The Civil Rights Act passed in 1964; an African American was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967; and today, just a few days after Johnson's 105th birthday, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th—and first African American—U.S. president.
Johnson, a 1928 graduate of the social work school, is the university's oldest-living African-American alumna. She spent her career helping families cope with unemployment, domestic problems and child rearing. One of her clients was a widow named Louise Stokes, who was struggling to raise two sons, Louis and Carl. Carl was the first African American elected mayor of a major city, Cleveland, in 1967, while Louis became a 15-term U.S. congressman representing Ohio's 21st district.
Johnson was invited to the inauguration after her retirement home, Judson at University Circle, shared her story with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio. While in Washington, D.C., she's a celebrity in her own right, with time set aside in her schedule to take questions from the media.
For Johnson, the election and inauguration are part of a bigger picture of change for the United States.
"I think it's good for all of us," she said, adding that she thinks Obama is leading Americans to take care of one another.
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