Elon Law dean emeritus named a 2020 Legal Legend of Color

Elon Law Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law George R. Johnson Jr. is one of five recipients of an annual honor bestowed by the North Carolina Bar Association's Minorities in the Profession Committee.

Elon Law Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law George R. Johnson, Jr.

A distinguished law professor and former dean who stewarded Elon University School of Law through its accreditation process with the American Bar Association has been honored with one of the North Carolina Bar Association’s highest professional honors.

Dean Emeritus and Professor George R. Johnson Jr. has been named as one of five 2020 Legal Legends of Color, a recognition bestowed by the NCBA’s Minorities in the Profession Committee.

“The essential quality of leadership, I believe, is integrity,” Johnson said in the NCBA’s award announcement on June 23, 2020. “Leaders implicitly, often explicitly, ask their people, their colleagues to trust them: to trust that the leader is working for them, that the leader’s decisions and choices seek to advance their interests and values.

“A leader will not always make the right or the best decision, but when others know or believe the leader’s decisions are grounded in principle, which is to say, the leader has integrity, then even wrong or bad decisions will be understood, and trust in the leader will be maintained.”

Johnson joined Elon Law in 2006 as part of the school’s founding faculty. He served as dean from February 2009 through May 2014, after previously serving six months as interim dean and, before that, as the school’s associate dean of academic affairs where he was instrumental in the process that achieved accreditation by the American Bar Association.

After earning his law degree from Columbia University in 1976, Johnson began his public service career as assistant counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs. Johnson joined the Carter administration in 1979 in the Executive Office of the President, serving as assistant general counsel for the White House Council on Wage and Price Stability.

Johnson’s teaching career began in 1981 when he joined the George Mason University law school. He joined the Howard University School of Law as visiting professor in 1988, was named full professor there in 1989 and was named to associate dean for academic affairs in 1992.

From 1996 to 2002, Johnson served as president of LeMoyne-Owen College, an independent historically black liberal arts college in Memphis, Tenn. He entered private practice in 2003 serving three years at Saint Louis & Johnson law firm in Washington.

Johnson’s writings have included a chronicle of the legal status of African Americans from 1790 to 1883 for the African-American Almanac. He also edited a book on the legacy of George Mason, and has written law review articles on coastal zone management, judicial review and enforcement policies of the Occupation Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Johnson has served on the boards of trustees/directors of Amherst College (where he received his bachelor’s degree), the United Negro College Fund, the Council of Independent Colleges, the Economic Club of Memphis, and Universal Life Insurance Company.

Johnson was selected with North Carolina Superior Court Judge Yvonne Mims Evans, North Carolina State Senator Dan T. Blue Jr, attorney Anthony Fox, and the late attorney J. Kenneth Lee in the award program’s class of 2020.

Honorees must meet four criteria:

  • Recipients must be a lawyer of color practicing (or one who has practiced most recently) in North Carolina for at least 15 years
  • Recipients must have had a legal career with a significant impact in North Carolina
  • Recipients must have demonstrated a high level of service to his/her local community and/or on a statewide basis
  • Recipients must be a member in good standing of the North Carolina State Bar (active or inactive)

“These five attorneys have more than satisfied the criteria for being named a Legal Legend of Color, and, further, they have all effected significant positive change in the North Carolina legal community and beyond,” Sharita M. Whitaker said on behalf of the NCBA’s Minorities in the Profession Committee in the award announcement.