BY ANDREW DYS
Ruth Johnson, an English teacher and activist for racial equality in western York County for decades, and mother of award winning writer/director Charles Randolph-Wright, died Thursday. She was 85.
Johnson taught for years at the segregated Jefferson School in York, then at York Comprehensive High School after schools were integrated. During all those years and afterward, she was an activist with the NAACP and other groups and helped create community groups that grappled with race problems in York and other rural parts of York County.
“For people in York and western York County, Ruth Johnson was not just a teacher, she was an inspiration,” said Steve Love, a former student and lifelong friend, and the former Western York NAACP president. “She pushed people to try to achieve their dreams and dare to be great.”
Johnson kept a sign on her wall all her life, even in her last years in assisted care after a stroke, that read: “Average is not good enough.”
“Ruth Johnson was a great woman whose impact on all students in York, and her community, will last forever,” said longtime friend John Spratt, the former congressman from York.
Johnson’s high expectations for greatness among students led her only son to the highest artistic honors in America. Charles Randolph-Wright, who grew up in York before heading off to college at Duke University and then to New York City to launch his career, is a director of such Broadway hits as “Motown” and “Blue,” among others. “Motown” is scheduled to be performed at the Belk Theater in Charlotte in August.
Her son, known throughout the world for his creativity and specifically his portrayal of the black experience, said that without his mother, none of that would have been possible. “My mother was the one great influence on my life, the one who had that profound vision for me – and so many others,” Randolph-Wright said Friday. “She had a great influence on people and her community, state and country.”
Randolph-Wright is establishing a yearly scholarship in his mother’s name for a student from York Comprehensive High School. “Her life’s work was to show the thrilling aspirations that learning brings to all of us,” Randolph-Wright said.
A public viewing is Wednesday from 6-8 and a service is Thursday at 1 at Wesley United Methodist Church, with Spratt, York Mayor Eddie Lee, and other dignitaries speaking about Johnson’s impact on York and York County.