Rev. Harvey Johnson and Amelia Johnson House

As African Americans in Baltimore sought to redefine themselves in the 1880s -- politically, geographically, socially -- the city’s black pastorate served as a vital source of leadership. None of this group stood taller or closer to the vanguard the Rev. Dr. Harvey Johnson.

Harvey Johnson was born in Fauquier County, Virginia on August 4, 1843 to Thomas and Harriett Johnson, enslaved persons on a local plantation. When freedom came during the course of the U.S. Civil War (1861 - 1865), the Johnsons, like other freedpeople, migrated to Alexandria, Virginia.

Johnson received his "calling" to preach, and enrolled at Washington, DC's Wayland Theological Seminary in 1868. Four years later he graduated, with honors, and began of brief period of stints working in the rural countryside of Maryland and Virginia under the auspices of the Home Mission Society. During that same year, 1872, Baltimore's Union Baptist Church sought a replacement for its late pastor Rev. William P. Thompson who died unexpectedly at the age of thirty-two. Union Baptist sent for young Rev. Johnson in November 1872. On April 17, 1877, Harvey Johnson married Amelia E. Hall, an Afro-Canadian born in Montreal (1858). Their marriage yielded three children, Harvey, Jr (born?), a daughter, Jessie E. (1878), and a son, Prentiss (1883).

Outside of her responsibility to family, Amelia Johnson made a name for herself in the juvenile and religious literature circles. Beginning in 1887, she began to publish a monthly literary magazine, The Joy, as an outlet for black writers, especially women, and as an inspirational resource for black youth. Filled with short-stories, poetry, and literary items of interest, The Joy was well received and praised. Amelia Johnson also published work in newspapers, both secular and church-affiliated. In fact, during the early 1890s, she penned a regular column, "Children's Corner," in the Baltimore Sower and Reaper. During that same period, Amelia Johnson had a full manuscript published by the American Baptist Publishing Society, one of the largest publishers of the time. According to her son, Harvey Johnson, Jr., Amelia was her husband's, "best friend, and his chief comfort, his guide in all his business matters...I still consider [their] union a perfect one."

In 1885, Reverend Harvey Johnson founded the Mutual United Brotherhood of Liberty of the United States of America (MUBL). The members of the MUBL pledged themselves, "to use all legal means within our power to procure and maintain our rights as citizens of this our common country." In mid-October 1885, the group held a three-day conference on the status of Black civil rights. Frederick Douglass addressed the conference.

Also in 1885, Johnson and the MUBL successfully engineered the admittance of Everett J. Waring to the Maryland Bar, concluding a fight begun by others in the 1870s. With the bar door opened, Johnson, the MUBL, and the small but growing coterie of black lawyers began an attack on inequalities. Black exclusion from jury boxes, the absence of black teachers from the city's public schools, the deteriorated condition of black public schools, and the infamous bastardy codes effecting black women, were the more visible of the fights taken on by the MUBL legal team.

Rev. Dr. Harvey Johnson then became involved in the Niagara Movement, the predecessor of the NAACP. In 1906, Johnson successfully challenged Maryland’s separate car law by filing suit and winning against the B&O Railroad, predating the Freedom Riders by about six decades.

Rev. Dr. Harvey Johnson served Union Baptist Church faithfully for more than fifty years, until his death in January 1923, one year after his wife Amelia. As aptly described in an obituary appearing in the Baltimore Afro American, Johnson's death marked the end of an era in leadership.

Today, the Johnson's former home is covered in formstone but appears to be occupied and in fair to good condition. This property is located within the Old West Baltimore National Register Historic District. 



1923 Druid Hill Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21217