Click below to listen to the powerful discussion with Dr. Charles Johnson and Author Chet Bush as they masterfully recount the power and emotion of one of the great untold stories of the Civil Rights Era in Mississippi. This event was recorded live in the Sanctuary of College Church of the Nazarene in Nampa, ID.
Dr. Charles Johnson was born March 5, 1938 in Orlando, Florida. He received his formal ministry training at the Nazarene Bible College in Institute, West Virginia, and has served the Meridian Fitkin’s Memorial Church of the Nazarene as pastor since July, 1961.
As a key African American witness to take the stand in the trial famously dubbed the “Mississippi Burning” case by the FBI, Charles Johnson played an important role for the Federal Justice Department, offering clarity to the event that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Dr. Johnson is the founder of the Meridian Action Committee of Meridian, MS. He shared a platform with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, traveled to Philadelphia, MS with Dr. King in the wake of the murders of three Civil Rights activists, and led a march through Meridian following King’s assassination in 1968. In 1972 he founded the Opportunities Industrialization Center in Meridian, MS. He was appointed to the National Manpower Board by President Jimmy Carter and served on the governor’s Colonel Staff with MS Governor Cliff Finch.
In the seventies, Rev Johnson’s focus transitioned from Civil Rights causes to evangelistic crusades in the city of Meridian. During the eighties & nineties Johnson toured the circuit of Nazarene camp-meetings and assemblies as a favored speaker and singer across the country. During this time he also initiated a robust campaign to start new African American churches in Mississippi, Texas, Kentucky, Illinois, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama and Michigan. In 1984 Charles was appointed by the Church of the Nazarene as the Coordinator for African American work in the Church of the Nazarene, at which point he established the Black Leadership Conference which still continues to this day. In 1986 Johnson was conferred the Honorary Doctorate by Trevecca Nazarene College (now University) in Nashville, TN. He currently serves as the Assistant District Superintendent of the Mississippi District while pastoring his beloved church family.
On June 19th, 2011, Charles was awarded the Miko Award for Civil Rights and Social Justice at the first annual National Civil Rights Conference held in Philadelphia, MS. He was chosen as the guest speaker on the first night of the Conference in the city of the historic murders. Charles is regarded as the “last remaining Civil Rights Activist in Meridian (Meridian Star).” In September, 2011, the city of Meridian celebrated Dr. Johnson with a street named in his honor: “Dr. Charles Johnson Avenue.”
Johnson has been cited in several books that retell the story of the Civil Rights Struggle in Mississippi. Among them are: Witness in Philadelphia, by Florence Mars; Three Lives for Mississippi, by William Bradford Huie; Terror in the Night, by Jack Nelson; We Are Not Afraid, by Seth Cagin; Murder in Mississippi, by Stephen Currie; and, now, the Story of Dr. Charles Johnson is told in colorful detail in Called to the Fire, by Chet Bush.
Chet Bush currently lives in Oxford, Mississippi. He received a bachelor’s degree in Religion from Trevecca Nazarene University (1996) in Nashville, TN. He earned the Master of Divinity degree at Nazarene Theological Seminary (2000) in Kansas City, MO. Bush was ordained an Elder in the Church of the Nazarene in Houston, Texas, in 2002.