Doria Dee Johnson was born on April 21, 1961, in Evanston, Illinois. She was the first of three children born to Helen and Charles Johnson. Doria attended King Lab School, where she participated in gymnastics; and Evanston Township High School, where she graduated in 1979.
While in high school, she was a cheerleader and worked part-time at Bennison’s Bakery. Upon graduation she briefly attended Lincoln College in Bloomington, Illinois. She continued to work at Bennison’s throughout the 1980s.
In 1987 she attended the Crawford family reunion near Abbeville, South Carolina, where she discovered her passion for history, particularly the history of her great- great-grandfather, Anthony Crawford.
From that point on, the Crawford legacy became her life’s work. Doria established a foundation for Anthony Crawford and tirelessly poured all her energy into this endeavor. Over the years she traveled the world speaking about her great-great grandfather and the rich history and contributions of Afro-Americans.
While developing the foundation, she also worked for the Merrill Corporation, Washington, DC (1995-1997); Pitney-Bowes Management Services, Washington, DC (1997-2000); and All-State Legal, Cranford, New Jersey (2000-2007). In June 2007 Doria graduated with honors, from Roosevelt University in Chicago, Illinois with a Bachelor of General Studies in History. In May 2009 she received a Master of Arts degree in African American Studies
Doria’s journey in pursuit of a doctorate degree in U.S. history was much more than an effort at fulfilling a career goal. Doria was answering a call from God to be a griot of a people, a voice for the untold communal and individual stories of victory, resistance, trauma, pain, heroism and celebration. Doria was answering a call from the ancestors to tell their stories in the tonality of reparatory justice.
At her death, she had not officially completed her dissertation, yet in her short time as scholar-activist, she had already accomplished what many would consider to be lifetime achievements for a professor of history.
Her research and service on the United States Senate Steering Committee for the Apology on Lynching was a centerpiece of securing a 2005 U.S. Senate apology for lynching. Subsequent to that accomplishment, Doria engaged and became respected as colleague and friend to some of the most active scholars and advocates for human rights in the world. In a globally competitive program, she was recently selected as one of three U.S. representatives as scholar in the Nelson Mandela International Dialogues program of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
The footprints of her scholarship and activism have taken her to places of struggle for human rights that include Palestine, Israel, South Africa, Europe, Sri Lanka, Ferguson and Cuba. And it was Doria who in 2016 was most responsible to see that Emmett Till’s casket rests and resides in the archives of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Since 2014, Doria served as a Bill Lucy justice scholar-in-residence at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, charged to help shape the sacred memory programs of the ministry and encourage local congregations and faith leaders to engage in the work of reclaiming the narratives of faith and victory that are necessary for the healing and liberation of a people. In that work, she was instrumental in the design of the Proctor Conference’s Truth Telling Commissions and their work that aligns with the United Nations Declaration of the Decade for People of African Descent.
She was co-curator of the Black Suburbia: From Levittown to Ferguson exhibit, at the New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research and Culture, in Harlem. Doria was featured in Google archives and collaborated with Attorney Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative programs on lynching, which featured Johnson telling the story of her family’s history, synthesizing lynching with The Great Migration.
But clearly, the pinnacle of integrating her personal passion with her professional goals was realized in the October 22, 2016 centennial commemoration of the lynching of her great grandfather, Anthony Crawford, in Abbeville. Doria led a pilgrimage of scholars, justice advocates, faith leaders and artists from around the nation to join her family during a weekend program honoring the memory and marking the site of Crawford’s death. She made an indelible mark on the role of public history and storytelling to transform communities.
Doria was a faculty member of Strayer University in Baltimore, Maryland and visiting scholar at the Newberry Library in Chicago. She has been resident scholar at the Shorefront Legacy Center in Evanston since 2010 and served on the Board of the Evanston Historical Society.
Her research interests included The Great Migration, African American suburbanization, oral history and memory, lynching and racialized violence, labor, critical race, Black feminist and Womanist theory.
Among her awards: Andrew W. Mellon Dissertation Fellow; University of Wisconsin/Madison Advanced Opportunity Fellowship; University of Chicago Black Metropolis Research Consortium Dissertation Research Fellowship; and a Yale University Summer Public History Institute Fellow.
She holds a Master in Afro-American Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin; and a Bachelor in General Studies, Department of History with honors, Roosevelt University in Chicago.
Doria transitioned on Feb. 14, 2018, and was preceded in death by her mother, Helen Brooks Johnson; and brothers, Marius Tain Johnson and Tori Barack Johnson. She leaves her father, Dr. Charles Johnson; sister, Christina Johnson; and a host of family and friends to mourn her passing.
Photo of Ms. Johnson by Rich Foreman