In Memoriam: Willard R. Johnson, 1935-2023

Willard R. Johnson, a professor emeritus in the department of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who focused his scholarly research on the political development of Africa, died in late October. He was 87 years old.

Proefssor Johnson was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1935 and moved to Pasadena, California, where he graduated from Muir High School. He earned an associate’s degree from Pasadena City College in 1955, and a bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of California, Los Angeles. At UCLA, he served as student body president, and also helped to found the campus’ chapter of the NAACP. Dr. Johnson later received a master’s degree in African studies with distinction from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard University.

Dr. Johnson joined the political science faculty in 1964 as an assistant professor. He was the first Black faculty member at MIT to rise through the ranks and achieve tenure from within, and he created a broad portfolio of accomplishments. Johnson conducted extensive fieldwork in Africa, published important contributions to the study of African political institutions and independence movements, advocated for the inclusion of more Black scholars in the MIT community, and served as a leading voice at MIT and in the Boston area against South African apartheid.

Dr. Johnson was the author of The Cameroon Federation: Political Integration in a Fragmentary Society (Princeton University Press, 1970). He collaborated with his wife Vivian to publish West African Governments and Volunteer Development Organizations: Priorities for Partnership (University Press of America, 1990).

Dr. Johnson transitioned to emeritus status in 1996 but remained active on campus and in the Boston community.

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