Johnson was born in Kansas City , Missouri
and grew up in public housing in the Watts
neighborhood of Los Angeles in the 1950s
and 1960s.As a 14 year old, he participated in the 1965 Watts riot, and afterward became active in the Nation of Islam.
In 1969, he moved to Seattle and within months became the local Black Panther Party’s Minister of Information.When most Black Panthers either moved to Oakland in 1972 or left the Party, Johnson, along with Elmer Dixon and a few others, remained in Seattle and continued to coordinate “survival programs” and Panther-related Party advocacy well into the 1970s.This activity included further promoting police accountability and shepherding the transition of the Sydney Miller Free Clinic into the Carolyn Downs Medical Center.
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