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Marjorie Witt Johnson

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Information about Marjorie Witt Johnson

Profile image of Marjorie Witt Johnson

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
Occupation(s):
Dance Instructor
Dancer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue, Rose
Favorite Food:
Fruit
Favorite Time of Year:
April
Favorite Vacation Spot:
None
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
3/18/1910
Birth Location:
Cheyenne, Wyoming

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
Occupation(s):
Dance Instructor
Dancer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue, Rose
Favorite Food:
Fruit
Favorite Time of Year:
April
Favorite Vacation Spot:
None
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
3/18/1910
Birth Location:
Cheyenne
See how Marjorie Witt Johnson is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Dancer, social worker, dance instructor and daughter of a Buffalo Soldier, Marjorie Witt Johnson was born on March 18, 1910 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Her father, William Henry Brown Witt, served in the United States 10th Cavalry under Colonel Charles Young at Fort D.A. Russell. Growing up, Johnson lived in Taylorville and attended Corllett School. Johnson transferred to Churchill School, Cheyenne Junior High School and graduated from Cheyenne High School in 1929. That summer Johnson’s mother, Pearl Melvina Pryor, took her to New York City where she saw her uncle Hayes Pryor perform with the Lafayette Players. High School history teacher, Eldridge Hubbard helped her gain admission into Oberlin College in 1930. Her education was donated by Cheyenne’s Women’s Club and the Searchlight Club. At Oberlin, Johnson was introduced to modern dance by Margery Schneider, and she was influenced by the work of Ruth St. Denis and Martha Graham.

Graduating from Oberlin with a B.S. degree in social work in 1935, Johnson served as a dance counselor for Camp Chippewa where she developed a talent for working with inner city girls. She formed a group called the Playhouse Settlement Dance Group. Eventually they became the Karamu Dancers as part of Karamu House. The group gained notoriety and was selected to perform at the 1940 World’s Fair in New York City. Johnson, building on Grace Coyle’s study, Democracy and Group Work, taught the girls modern dance by incorporating their own life experiences with oral history and music. Among her notable dance works are “Barbeque,” “Tea Time,” “Braham’s Rhapsody in G Minor,” “The Sermon,” and the underground railroad play, From House to House, which was performed in Nigeria as Lati Ile’ si Ile’. Two of her notable students are Royce Wallace and Roger Mae Johnson. In Atlanta, Johnson inspired Morehouse College student body president, Michael Babatunde Olatunji to play his drums in public.

Johnson has been celebrated by the City of Cleveland and numerous other organizations for her more than 70 years of service in promoting arts in education. Recently, Karamu House showcased Daughter of a Buffalo Soldier, which was directed and choreographed by Dianne McIntyre.

Johnson, who was married to the late actor, Bill Johnson, has a daughter and is still active as a community activist, role model and innovator in Cleveland. She is the author of the book, Moving Images of Courage. Johnson passed away on July 19, 2007.

Johnson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 22, 2006.

See how Marjorie Witt Johnson is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Marjorie Witt Johnson's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Marjorie Witt Johnson lists her favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Marjorie Witt Johnson describes her mother's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Marjorie Witt Johnson describes how her parents met
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Marjorie Witt Johnson describes her father's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Marjorie Witt Johnson recalls her family settling in Cheyenne, Wyoming
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Marjorie Witt Johnson describes her father's experiences in the U.S. Army
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Marjorie Witt Johnson describes her earliest childhood memory
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Marjorie Witt Johnson describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Marjorie Witt Johnson remembers the landscape of Cheyenne, Wyoming
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Marjorie Witt Johnson recalls the diversity of her U.S. Army housing complex
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Marjorie Witt Johnson recalls accidentally causing a fire in Taylorville, Wyoming, pt. 1
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Marjorie Witt Johnson recalls accidentally causing a prairie fire in Taylorville, Wyoming, pt. 2
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Marjorie Witt Johnson remembers seeing buffalo near Taylorville, Wyoming
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Marjorie Witt Johnson describes Taylorville's Native American community
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Marjorie Witt Johnson describes her elementary schools in Cheyenne, Wyoming
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Marjorie Witt Johnson recalls a teacher's remarks about her complexion
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Marjorie Witt Johnson talks about her segregated childhood community
  • Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Marjorie Witt Johnson describes class differences between Cheyenne's African Methodist Episcopal and Baptist churches
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Marjorie Witt Johnson describes her family's light complexions
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Marjorie Witt Johnson remembers how she discovered her talent for dancing
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Marjorie Witt Johnson recalls learning about slavery from her teacher, pt. 1
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Marjorie Witt Johnson recalls learning about slavery from her teacher, pt. 2
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Marjorie Witt Johnson remembers her decision to attend Oberlin College
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Marjorie Witt Johnson describes her dancing experiences at Oberlin College
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Marjorie Witt Johnson recalls her parents' opinion of her dancing aspirations
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Marjorie Witt Johnson describes her experiences at Oberlin College
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Marjorie Witt Johnson recalls teaching dance at Camp Chippewa
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Marjorie Witt Johnson remembers forming the Karamu Dancers
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Marjorie Witt Johnson describes the Karamu Dancers' first performance, pt. 1
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Marjorie Witt Johnson recounts the Karamu Dancers' first performance, pt. 2
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Marjorie Witt Johnson recalls the Karamu Dancers' performance at the New York World's Fair
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Marjorie Witt Johnson explains what inspired the Karamu Dancers' choreography
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Marjorie Witt Johnson recalls her choreography to Johannes Brahms' 'Rhapsody in G Minor'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Marjorie Witt Johnson describes her accompanist, Lois A. Perry
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Marjorie Witt Johnson recalls her introduction to African music and meeting Babatunde Olatunji
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Marjorie Witt Johnson recalls her work with Roger Mae Johnson and Babatunde Olatunji
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Marjorie Witt Johnson recalls traveling to Atlanta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Marjorie Witt Johnson remembers social worker Grace Coyle
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Marjorie Witt Johnson describes 'Daughter of a Buffalo Soldier,' a dance in her honor
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Marjorie Witt Johnson reflects upon her life and legacy
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Marjorie Witt Johnson shares her philosophy of art
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Marjorie Witt Johnson describes William E. Smith's artwork
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Marjorie Witt Johnson narrates her photographs