Jeh Vincent Johnson (1931-2021) was born in Nashville, Tennessee and was the son of Marie Burgette and Charles Spurgeon Johnson, a renowned professor of Sociology at Fisk University who later served as its first African-American president. Johnson graduated from Columbia College in 1953 as president of the student body, and was later drafted to serve in the Counter Intelligence Corps of the U.S. Army until 1954. He returned to Columbia to earn his M.Arch in 1958 and was awarded the William Kinne Fellows Prize upon graduation. The prize enabled Johnson to travel across Europe for several months alongside his wife, Norma Edelin.
After working for the acclaimed architect Paul R. Williams, Johnson settled in the Hudson Valley, where he co-founded a private practice with William Gindele ‘57 M.Arch (1925-2020). He began teaching at Vassar College in 1961 and served as a beloved and influential faculty member for 37 years. Throughout his career, Johnson remained committed to the idea that designers should take account of their social responsibilities and attempt to provide buildings that respond to “human emotional needs,” as he told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB). The majority of his work was community-based and included multi-family housing, community centers, churches, schools, and single-family homes. By 1967 Johnson had become so successful in the field of multi-family housing that he was contacted by the White House to serve on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s National Commission on Urban Problems.
In 1971, Johnson and several colleagues at the AIA national convention in Detroit formed the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) to both ensure that minority architects were known to the American public and to encourage young Black and Latino students to enter the profession. Now in its 50th year, NOMA represents hundreds of minority men and women with chapters around the country, and is currently led by Jason Pugh '06 MSAUD, NOMA President.
In 1977, Johnson was elected to the AIA’s College of Fellows and was awarded a special citation from the New York chapter of the AIA for his advocacy on behalf of equal opportunity and housing issues in 1997.
Jeh Johnson passed away on January 27, 2021 at the age of 89. Our deepest sympathies to his wife, Norma Edelin Johnson, his son, Jeh Charles Johnson '82 LW, the former Secretary of Homeland Security, and his brother-in-law, Milton Edelin ‘54 CC ‘57 MArch.