Page title graphic showing Lt. Colonels Abraham and Louise Johnson wearing their Salvation Army uniforms

This is not Abe Johnson’s work; this is the Lord’s work… We will march along.” Lt. Colonel Abe Johnson

Photograph of Lt. Colonel Abe Johnson in Salvation Army uniform
Lt. Colonel Abe Johnson. Image Courtesy of The Salvation Army Heritage Museum, West Nyack, NY.

Lt. Colonel Abraham “Abe” Johnson is as courageous as he is fearless. He heard the call from God to become a Salvation Army officer at a Salvation Army youth camp.  Abe applied to the School for Officer Training (now the College for Officer Training, CFOT) in the Eastern Territory and was denied. It was 1956, the early days of the civil rights movement. The Brown vs. The Board of Education ruling had recently made racial segregation in schools unconstitutional, and although segregated education was now illegal, not all Americans accepted this ruling. The Territorial leaders suggested that Abe apply to William Booth College, the Army’s CFOT in England; he refused and reapplied to the Eastern Territory CFOT one year later. He was accepted as a Cadet in the Courageous session. He was the first Black man to attend SFOT in twelve years.

In 1958, Lieutenant Abe was appointed to the New York (Harlem Temple), NY Corps. Two years later, he received a new appointment as the corps officer at the Cleveland (Superior), OH Corps. During this appointment, he met his future wife, Captain Louise Hagler, who received her orders to serve as assistant corps officer at the same time. Captains Abe and Louise were married a year later. As the civil rights movement intensified and cities burned due to racial unrest, Captains Abe and Louise found the courage to serve meals to the police and fire department during the Cleveland riots of the 1960s.

In 1972, the Majors Johnson were appointed to the New York (Harlem Temple) Corps. “It was a militant time in Harlem,” Major Abraham said in an interview, “Our tires were slashed, and my wife and I were threatened. There were a lot of angry people.” When the Black Panthers attempted to take over the playground at the community center, Major Abe met with the leaders. This meeting led to partnerships in programs that fed the community and provided basic needs.

Photograph of Lt. Colonel Louise Johnson in Salvation Army uniform
Lt. Colonel Louise Johnson. Image Courtesy of The Salvation Army Heritage Museum, West Nyack, NY.

The community center was at the center of the Majors Johnson’s work. When they arrived in 1972, the community center faced demolition. Their dream was to build a new facility that would serve the entire Harlem community. After fifteen years, that dream came true, in July 1987, a new center opened. At the time, the 40,000 square foot facility was the largest Salvation Army community center in the country.  They also developed a feeding program in Harlem that served 400 people each night using mobile canteens. This program is still in service today. The Lt Colonels Johnson also served first responders from their canteen in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York City.

In 1997, Major Abe spoke about his vision for the Salvation Army and race relations. He said, “I see Salvationists of color support each other through the ministry of the Army. I see the day coming when it will not be unusual to have colonels, commissioners, and international leaders as men and women of color coming from our territory.” He developed a six-point plan to outline his vision.

In 1999 they received the rank of Lt. Colonel, the Johnsons continued serving all people regardless of race or nationality. They retired in 2002 and were recognized by Commissioners David and Doreen Edwards as “Those few who can certainly be counted as legends in their own lifetimes.” The Johnsons received a certificate of achievement from General Eva Burrows in 1999; In 2018, they received the USA Eastern Territory’s Empowerment Life Achievement Award; and in June of 2020, they received The Salvation Army’s highest honor, the Order of the Founder Award.

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