As we celebrate Black History Month, it’s essential to shine a light on the remarkable individuals who have made significant contributions. While many are familiar with Atlanta’s prominent figures, I want to share stories of lesser-known local heroes from my hometown in Georgia. One such unsung hero is Judge Horace J. Johnson, a figure I had the privilege of connecting with on a personal level.
During my third-year of law school at UGA, I spent 6 months working for Judge Johnson while participating in a judicial externship. Judge Johnson was brilliant and kind. He grew up in the Sand Hill Community of Newton County, graduating from Newton High School in one of the first integrated classes to go through the local schools.
In 2002, Governor Roy Barnes appointed Judge Johnson to the Superior Court bench for the Alcovy Judicial Circuit, covering both Newton and Walton County, where I spent my formative years. This historic appointment made him the first Black Superior Court judge in the circuit.
Judge Johnson’s legacy extended beyond his legal accomplishments. Reflecting on his experiences as one of the first Black students to integrate Ficquett Elementary School, he shared poignant memories of walking out of school amid protests, shielded by state patrol officers. His commitment to justice and equality was evident throughout his nearly two-decade tenure on the bench, which sadly ended with his untimely passing on July 1, 2020.
What set Judge Johnson apart was not just his legal prowess but his remarkable empathy and kindness. Whether interacting with attorneys, courthouse staff, or criminal defendants, he treated everyone with equal respect and attention. His genuine concern for individuals’ well-being extended to initiatives like the parental accountability court he established in 2013, aimed at assisting parents in supporting their children financially.
In 2016, Judge Johnson introduced a treatment court for veterans, showcasing his dedication to addressing diverse needs within the community. His impact also reached beyond the courtroom, as a founding board member of Newton Mentoring Inc., a contributor to the Arts Association in Newton County, and a member of the inaugural advisory board for the Boys & Girls Club in Newton County.
My admiration for Judge Johnson knows no bounds. While it took me years to grasp the intricacies of practicing law and conducting a jury trial, the six months spent under his mentorship taught me invaluable lessons on being an attorney. He emphasized the significance of respect and decorum, shaping my approach to the legal profession. I am forever grateful for the wisdom he imparted, leaving an enduring imprint on my legal journey.”
What I remember vividly about Judge Johnson is his empathy and kindness to every single attorney, courthouse employee, and criminal defendant that entered his courtroom. I admired him greatly. It took me years to learn how to practice law and try a jury trial. However, during those six months with him I learned how to be an attorney. He taught me the importance of respect and decorum, and I will always be grateful to him for that.