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Raymond L. Johnson

Mathematician Raymond L. Johnson was born on June 25, 1943 in Alice, Texas, a small town near Corpus Christi. He was raised by his mother Johnnie Johnson, his maternal grandmother Ethel Pleasant Johnson, and her second husband Benjamin Thompson. Growing up, it was Benjamin Thompson who taught Johnson how to read and do some arithmetic. This sparked an early interest in mathematics and allowed Johnson to skip the first two grades. Johnson attended a two room schoolhouse because the nearby grade school was segregated. With the help of his mentors, Larry O’Rear and Stan Brooks, Johnson excelled in high school mathematics. He went on to major in mathematics and received his B.A. degree from the University of Texas in 1963.

Once again, with the help and encouragement of a great mentor, Dr. Howard Curtis, Johnson applied and became one of the first African Americans to be admitted to Rice University. Two alumni sued the university to stop Johnson’s entrance, but within the year, Rice University won the case. Johnson became a regular student, graduating with his Ph.D. degree in mathematics in 1969. After college, Johnson started his forty year career at the University of Maryland in College Park, becoming the first African American faculty member in the mathematics department. He began as an assistant professor in 1968 and became a full professor in 1980.

Johnson served as chair of the graduate studies department at the University of Maryland from 1987 to 1990. As chair, he founded several programs to eliminate barriers for minority students and to help increase the number of minorities and women in the Ph.D. program in mathematics. He received a Distinguished Minority Faculty Award for his work. Johnson was promoted to chair of the mathematics department in 1991, a position he held for five years. Johnson’s mathematical work has focused in the area of harmonic analysis, the study of overlapping waves, which has roots in functions related to trigonometry. He has contributed to over twenty-five publications on mathematics research. Johnson’s current research focuses on applying harmonic analysis to study spectral synthesis. In 2007, Johnson was honored with the Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2009, Johnson returned to Rice University to serve as a visiting professor. He has one son, Malcolm P. Johnson.

Raymond L. Johnson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 17, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.193

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/17/2012

Last Name

Johnson

Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

L

Schools

Dubose Intermediate

Carver Elementary

William Adams High School

University of Texas at Austin

Rice University

First Name

Raymond

Birth City, State, Country

Alice

HM ID

JOH41

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Europe

Favorite Quote

Don't look back. Someone might be gaining on you.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Texas

Birth Date

6/25/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Houston

Country

USA

Favorite Food

All Food

Short Description

Mathematician and math professor Raymond L. Johnson (1943 - ) led the way for minority scientists by breaking through barriers and serving as a mentor. He is known for his research on harmonic analysis and spectral synthesis.

Employment

University of Maryland, College Park

Rice University

Howard University

ESSO PRDD RES

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Raymond Johnson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Raumond Johnson lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Raymond Johnson describes his mother's side of the family

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Raymond Johnson describes his mother's life in Alice, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Raymond Johnson discusses similarities and differences from his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Raymond Johnson describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Raymond Johnson describes growing up in Alice, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Raymond Johnson describes the sights and sounds and smells of growing up

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Raymond Johnson describes his family in Alice, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Raymond Johnson describes his early school-days

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Raymond Johnson describes his experience in a newly-integrated school system

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Raymond Johnson describes growing up during segregation

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Raymond Johnson discusses the sports heroes of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Raymond Johnson describes those who influenced his decision to attend college

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Raymond Johnson describes his experience in high-school

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Raymond Johnson describes his experience at the University of Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Raymond Johnson describes his experience with the American Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Raymond Johnson describes the mentorship he received in high school and college

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Raymond Johnson describes the post-Sputnik climate in the United States

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Raymond Johnson shares pleasant memories from the University of Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Raymond Johnson describes the summer of 1963

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Raymond Johnson describes his first year at Rice University

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Raymond Johnson shares his thoughts on the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Raymond Johnson describes his relationship with NFL player, Frank Ryan

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Raymond Johnson describes his experiences at Rice University

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Raymond Johnson describes his experience with his graduate advisor, Jim Douglas

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Raymond Johnson describes his Ph.D. dissertation research

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Raymond Johnson describes his transition from graduate school to his first job

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Raymond Johnson describes the tension following Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Raymond Johnson describes his experience at the University of Maryland

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Raymond Johnson describes his brief experience at Howard University

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Raymond Johnson describes his service as the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Raymond Johnson describes his service as the chairman of the mathematics department

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Raymond Johnson describes collaboration among African American mathematicians

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Raymond Johnson discusses prominent African American mathematicians

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Raymond Johnson talks about his family

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Raymond Johnson talks about the Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Raymond Johnson talks about the first generation of African American mathematicians

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Raymond Johnson reflects upon his legacy at the University of Maryland and at Rice University

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Raymond Johnson describes one of his successes as a mentor

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Raymond Johnson discusses meeting Ron [Ronald] Walters

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Raymond Johnson reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Raymond Johnson discusses his concerns for African American mathematicians

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Raymond Johnson describes his relationship with Freeman Hrabowski

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Raymond Johnson talks about his son

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Raymond Johnson's reflects upon how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$2

DAStory

5$1

DATitle
Raymond Johnson describes his experience in high-school
Raymond Johnson describes his experience in a newly-integrated school system
Transcript
Okay, now, I don't wanna get you out of high school yet.$$Okay.$$But we'll go back to, to high school [at Williams Adams High School, Alice, Texas] for a second. Now, did you, were you involved in clubs and stuff in high school or run for student government or--$$No, not for student government. But I was involved in clubs. So this is the National Honor Society, 'cause I mean I think that was, I don't know what the conditions were for getting in it, but, you know, I was a member of the National Honor Society. And that's where I met like, you know, other people who were very, very smart and who also were very competitive. I mean, you know, I remember the competition for valedictorian, for example, of Alice High School. I was not involved in the competition, but I was observing it. And, you know, having people sort of take easy classes and try to make sure they could keep their grade point average up and have a better chance of being valedictorian. I mean I remember that was sort of the first time I learned about, you know, that sort of social aspect of learning. I thought you just went to school and you did the best you could and, you know, and you graduated, and then you go on and keep doing the best you can. But there were actually these people who were competing to be valedictorian.$$Okay, and--$$And they were all in National Honor Society.$$And strategizing what kind of class they're gonna take to--$$Yeah, yeah.$$--to get there.$$--to make sure that they had the highest GPA [Grade Point Average].$$Okay,--$$And no socializing. I mean, you know, I don't remember prom, you know, or anything like that. But did go to the football games for the Alice Coyotes, you know, football team. It was a long walk, but, you know, it was worth it. And socializing in that sense.$$Okay. So the foot--the high school was named William Adams--$$William Adams, yeah, and the Alice Coyotes was the football team.$$Okay, so they, okay, all right. So they called the football team, not the Adams' Coyotes, but the Alice Coyotes?$$The Alice Coyotes.$$Okay (laughter), all right.$$It was for the whole city.$$All right. Now, football is, when you think of football, people think of Texas for some, you know, some reason.$$Yep, Friday night.$$High school, Friday night lights and all that sort of thing. So what, was it really big in Alice?$$Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, well, first of all (laughter), there's nothing else to do in Alice, okay. So, I mean it was really big, and, you know, for a kid like me who didn't have any money, I mean getting into the game was non-trivial. I climbed a fence a few times to get into the game, but sometimes after halftime, they'd sort of let you into the game. So, you know, we, it wasn't, I don't remember like them saying, okay, because you go to, here, here's a free pass because you're a student at Alice High School. I mean there was supposed to be like a two dollar or dollar charge or something like that. So sometimes I'd just go to the game and wouldn't actually get to see the game. But the team, you know, I think they competed for the state championship. They had some very good players. I don't, don't remember their names or exactly how well they did, but they, they had a very good football team.$$Okay, any players make--$$The only one I remember, I think was a quarterback named Len Baillets (ph.), but, you know, I don't think he did very much in college or anything like that, but he was the star of the Alice football team.$$Okay, all right, so when you graduated, did you, did they tell you what rank you were or anything?$$You know, I was, I was the top ten. But that's all I remember. And, and that was the last graduation I attended. So I actually did go to my graduation in high school.$$Okay, but you didn't go to any of the rest of 'em?$$Nah.$Okay, yeah, tell us, now, what happened next in school now? You're, you're--$$So after eighth grade, Alice [Texas] didn't have enough black students, and so the Alice school district had an arrangement with the Kingsville [Texas] school district. So grades nine through twelve were bused from Alice to Kingsville which is twenty-eight miles, and I knew classmates who had ridden the bus and had gone to school in Kingsville. And I was looking forward to it 'cause in a sense, it's a chance to get out of Alice, at least for a, for a day, every day. But 'Brown versus Board' was decided, and the Alice school district decided to live up to it, accept 'Brown versus Board'. So I spent ninth grade in DuBoise [DuBoise Junior High School, Alice, Texas], which is the first time I'd gone to an integrated junior high school, I mean it was junior high school at that time. So you just went for ninth grade, and then high school was William Adams [Williams Adams High School, Alice, Texas], grade ten through twelve, which was also integrated.$$Okay.$$DuBoise was-I was, it was lucky for me in the sense that the main thing that I recall that happened to me at DuBoise was they discovered that I couldn't see. You know, in Alice, in this two-room school, the boards were very close, and so, you know, it was a very small room, four, four, four grades cramped into one room. So I didn't have any problem seeing everything. But then when I went to DuBoise, you're in this classroom, and, you know, there's thirty seats in a room and the board up at the front. And I couldn't see. So I got glasses, and that I think (laughter) helped a lot 'cause that meant I could see what was actually going on in class.$$Do you remember how you discovered, how, how it was discovered you couldn't see?$$No, I don't remember, but, you know, somehow I, I wasn't seeing what was on the board, and so they, they sent me, they told my, told my mother that I need to have an eye test. I had an eye test, and they discovered I needed glasses.$$So the teacher noticed it.$$Yeah, the teacher noticed it.$$Okay, all right. So, what was the racial makeup of--after integration for, I guess, DuBoise?$$You know, two or three blacks in a class of thirty, yeah, yeah, 'cause we, we were, it was a--there was a tight-knit black community, but it was very small. It was very small.$$Okay. And there wasn't a lot of rancor or problems, I guess, would you say?$$There was some resentment, you know. There were some kids who muttered some things and stuff like that, but, you know, mostly, it was uneventful. Let's say it like that. I mean, you know, the black kids would hang together, and the white kids still hung together. So it, it was more like two separate worlds that were colliding but really not paying much attention to each other. That's the way I recall it.