William Herbert Johnson was born in Syracuse, New York, in 1875. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Boston University and then served in the U.S. Army during the Spanish American War. He then returned to his home town to enroll in the College of Law at Syracuse University.
Johnson earned his law degree in 1903. He was the first African American to graduate from the College of Law at Syracuse University.
Despite his credentials, Johnson was not admitted to the New York State Bar Association because of the color of his skin.
Johnson died in 1965 at the age of 90. Despite the fact that Johnson was not a lawyer, the minority bar association of Central New York was thereafter named the William Herbert Johnson Bar Association in his honor. The College of Law at Syracuse University also established an annual award that bears his name.
Recently, Johnson was posthumously admitted to the New York State Bar Association in a ceremony at the Onondaga County Courthouse in Syracuse. This honor was bestowed 116 years after Johnson graduated from law school.