I never knew until today that Johnson County; Iowa had originally been named for a slaveholder. That has changed since the Johnson County Board of Supervisors voted to rename the county for distinguished African American scholar, Dr. Lulu Merle Johnson on June 24, 2021. Read the Iowa Now story for the details. The drive to rename the county for Dr. Johnson, an accomplished University of Iowa alumna, began last year with an on-line petition that gathered 1,000 signatures, led by David McCartney, an archivist in UI Libraries’ Special Collections.
According to the Iowa Now story, the drive to rename the county for Dr. Johnson was also in the context of the deaths of several African Americans by police officers earlier this year. It reminds me of another famous African American, James Alan McPherson, a long-time faculty member at the Iowa Writers Workshop, for whom a local neighborhood park was recently renamed. Part of the drive for that came from members of Black Lives Matter.
McPherson was written about in the book Invisible Hawkeyes: African Americans at the University of Iowa during the Long Civil Rights Era, edited by former UI faculty, Lena and Michael Hill. Although Dr. Johnson was not mentioned in their book, she certainly could have been because of her towering status as an educator, historian, and activist.
Support for the change also came from Leslie Schwalm, professor of gender, women’s and sexuality studies, and members of Dr. Johnson’s family.