Master Photographer David Johnson returns to his roots

“Girls Playing Hopscotch in Bayview Hunters Point” – Photo: David Johnson

by Dr. Frances Yvonne Hicks and Kenneth Reddick

A 1945 graduate of Stanton High School, professional photographer David Johnson is returning to Jacksonville to show the award winning documentary of his life, “Positive Negative,” at The Ritz Theatre and Museum, 829 N. Davis St., Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday, June 15, between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. The event is free of charge.

After the documentary showing, David will be interviewed about his photographic journey, which included being the first African American student of Ansel Adams at the California School of Fine Arts (now San Francisco Art Institute) in 1946. David studied at the Adams Photography School during the “Golden Decade” with teachers like Minor White, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston and Dorothea Lange.

“David Johnson, photographer extraordinaire” is the way this photo is described by his wife, Jacqueline Sue. – Photo: David Johnson

His work was greatly influenced by Life Magazine photographer Gordon Parks. You will hear his account of the early days of Jacksonville and the inspiration that he received from living here, during the days of LaVilla … the Train Station, popular Ashley Street, and our beloved Stanton. You will hear how his dynamic photographs of the Civil Rights Movement reached national attention at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. Recently, the Bancroft Library and Museum acquired 5,000 images and papers for their permanent collection.

Johnson is an important chronicler of African American life in San Francisco during the mid-20th century. His images from a career spanning more than 60 years are in a collection of the Library of Congress and various art shows, on magazine covers and in galleries around the country. His work was featured prominently in the television documentary, “The Fillmore.” A book, “A Dream Begun So Long Ago,” written with his wife, Jacqueline Sue, provides a vivid sketch of David’s life and photography.

“Boy and Lincoln,” a photo taken in 1963 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement by David Johnson of a youngster who’d climbed into the lap of the statue of Lincoln during a NAACP rally in front of City Hall, is among the 5,000 items in Johnson’s archive now part of UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library collection. “That was just a photograph waiting for me to take it – an image that was saying to me, ‘Come over here, come over here!’” David Johnson recalls.

At the age of 92, David Johnson is fulfilling one of his heart’s desires to return home to Jacksonville, connect with his past, like seeing his 1945 Stanton graduation classmates, and share the story of his life and career that has been so heavily influenced by his early years in this city. He is also excited to be in Jacksonville to attend the Stanton High School Alumni Reunion Gala.

Please come and help Jacksonville celebrate the homecoming of David Johnson, a person whose extraordinary photographic images represent yet another example of the great contributions African Americans make to the life of our city and country.

Please contact Dr. Frances Yvonne Hicks, FYvonneHicks@aol.com, or Kenneth Reddick, kwreddick@comcast.net, if you have a question or comment.

Editor’s note: Here in San Francisco, we take pride in master photographer David Johnson as a native son. But he was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, and is returning to visit his home town, where he will be honored like royalty for all he did documenting San Francisco history, particularly of the Fillmore. Only through his photos do people know the real “Harlem of the West,” bulldozed into oblivion by City Hall. It must have been in Jacksonville where he learned that history is more than stories of wars and famous men; it’s in the words and images of everyday people. San Francisco is far richer for his coming here.