Joseph Johnson, Grambling State University’s third president and beloved figure credited with the rise of the school’s academic, athletic and cultural brands, died on Jan. 2.
Regarded among the greatest HBCU presidents of all-time, Johnson led Grambling through a golden age of growth and achievement, spurred by his role in securing a judicial consent decree in 1981 between the university, the U.S. Department of Justice and the State of Louisiana to rectify decades of chronic underfunding and support from the state legislature. That agreement, which some officials estimated helped the university to receive more than $300 million in capital and programmatic funding, developed Grambling has a reputable workforce development hub for black professionals in healthcare and education, among other fields.
“He was the reason it all came together,” said Attorney Thomas Todd, who worked with Dr. Johnson to secure the discrimination remedy agreement. “There were concerns that people were trying to close Grambling, but once he arrived most of that concern disappeared because of his attitude and stand that Grambling had every right to exist – and to do more. He was an educator’s educator who believed that students were most important….He was interested in not only Grambling, but education generally.”
The Grambling State alumnus helped to guide his alma mater to global acclaim through the exposure of the World Famed Tiger Marching Band and its travels with the Grambling State University football team, who under his former basketball coach Eddie Robinson, helped to propel the GSU brand to become culturally synonymous with the term “HBCU.”
In a statement, Grambling State President Rick Gallot credited Dr. Johnson as a pioneer to whom much of Grambling’s present and future success is attributed.
“He and his administration’s tireless work on legacy-changing efforts included preparing the Consent Decree, which brought millions of dollars to GSU; establishing key academic programs including our School of Nursing, MBA program, and top-ranked computer science programs; and establishing GSU’s Earl Lester Cole Honors College and our doctoral program in developmental education… He invested in our community, campus, and a long list of GSU alumni who have followed in his footsteps in shaping our world and education.”
“Grambling State University will be forever indebted to President Johnson. He was a fighter, a warrior and one of the voices who made sure our institution never settled for ordinary. It was an honor to call him President, mentor, and advisor.”