Preacher Retires After 50 Years In Pulpit

By: Michael Gorsegner
By: Michael Gorsegner

October 30, 2005

After more than 50 years as preacher at Zion Hills Baptist Church, Reverend R.A. Johnson is retiring. The man had a hand in desegregating Albemarle Public Schools.

Doctor Reverend R.A. Johnson has blessed the pulpit here at Zion Hills Baptist Church for over 50 years. On Sunday, he closed the door on a ministry that has brought an entire community together.

"We have been able to solidify a community of people to the extent that they are out to be of service to humanity," said Reverend R.A. Johnson, of Zion Hills Baptist Church.

In his time here at Zion Hills, Reverend Johnson oversaw many changes including additions and improvements to this building. More importantly however, he oversaw a change that would affect the lives of many Albemarle County residents.

That change was integration. In 1964, Rev. Johnson spear-headed an effort to integrate Albemarle County Public Schools. James White was one of six black students to first attend Albemarle High.

"A lot of people saw integration as a mixture of white and blacks. We saw integration as an opportunity to learn and get a better education," said James White, a parishioner of the church.

"We were able to work it out through the School Board and the Board of Supervisors and the Superintendent of Schools and we were able to do it in a very peaceful way," Johnson added.

Parishioners say Rev. Johnson will be remembered not only for his work on civil rights, but his work inside the community.

"If any of his members got in trouble, he was right there. If any of his members passed away, he was right there. He didn't wait for tomorrow, said Alexander Chapman, a deacon at the church.

Alexander Chapman has known Rev. Johnson for all 50 years of his ministry. He hopes the future will remain bright.

"I am just praying and hoping that things are going to be alright, but he has been an awful fine Christian gentleman," said Chapman.

"I foresee them calling a young, dynamic, intelligent preacher who will pick up the broken pieces I've left behind," added Johnson.

Reverend Johnson will not just ride off into the sunset. He also preaches at Pilgrim Baptist Church in Charlottesville where he will remain preaching indefinitely.

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