Remembering Judge Johnson, tireless leader against racial inequity

Last updated: February 16, 2021, at 10:23 a.m. PT

Originally published: February 12, 2021, at 1:28 p.m. PT

Judge Johnson

(From left to right, Gary Gayton, Judge Johnson, Lem Howell and Judge Jones)

Earlier this year, we announced the passing of YMCA of Greater Seattle Life Board Member and Meredith Mathews East Madison YMCA Board member, Judge Charles V. Johnson. 

Judge Johnson left a lasting legacy both professionally and personally for equity and justice for all. We honor and recognize him as a trailblazer in this work for our community.

As the only African American to graduate in his class from the University of Washington School of Law in 1957 and as the first and only African American to hold the role of Presiding Judge in King County Superior Court, he worked tirelessly as a lawyer in the 60’s civil rights movement to ensure those who stood against racial inequities in our community had guidance to navigate the legal system.

Judge Johnson held key roles with the NAACP Seattle, Central Area Civility Rights Commission, and our own East Madison YMCA branch to lead efforts to dismantle institutional racism. 

As we reflect upon his legacy and the journey we are undertaking as an organization to advance equity and justice for all, we are inspired by the words of his mentee, YMCA Board Member Honorable Richard A. Jones, and the strength and guidance we can draw upon for our own journey. 

During his recent eulogy and tribute, Judge Jones shared lessons he learned from Judge Johnson that still guide him in his life today: 

“The lessons I learned from Judge Johnson are quite clear. A firm but dignified approach to conflict will always prevail. It's not how loud you speak but what you say when you do speak. A quick and ill-tempered manner of dealing with conflict will not cause people to agree with you or follow you. Live your life guided by ethics and you will never fail. Never forget your roots and the road you traveled to achieve. You exemplify this by always reaching out to help others.”

Thank you, Judge Jones, for your inspiration and thank you, Judge Johnson, for instilling such a steadfast and true approach in the lives of so many youth and families in our community. We will carry those words in our heart as we lead our work to advance equity and justice for all.