The Early Years
Donald Howard Johnson was born on July 6, 1929 in St. Louis, Missouri, the fourth son of Marvin and Nova Johnson. (Later, a girl was added to the family.) Soon after his birth, the United States entered into the Great Depression. The family then moved from the city to the country, then down into Arkansas, before finally settling in Ripley, Mississippi, where he grew up.
His father, Marvin Johnson, was a blacksmith. He also ran a grist mill. There was very little money at this time. Certainly, there was none to spend on amusements, but the family was still very close. The family loved to eat together and to sing together. Marvin Johnson loved to sing, so music was an important part of the Johnson family life. Often they would go outside at night and lie on a quilt and count the stars and sing together.
Don cannot remember when he learned to play the guitar. He was playing one as soon as he was big enough to hold one up. His first guitar was a Sears and Roebuck Silvertone.
Jean Rooker Johnson was born on January 28, 1931, the third daughter of Charles Eliot and Hermie Olivia Rooker. Later, a boy who died in infancy and another girl were added to the family. Charles and Hermie Rooker were farmers. They owned a farm and lived in a community called Deantown, located about six miles from Blue Mountain, Mississippi.
As a girl, Jean attended school in Blue Mountain and always made outstanding grades. In high school, she played on the girl’s basketball team. After graduation from high school, she attended the Blue Mountain College for Women, a well-known private women’s college established in 1873.
One night while she was playing in a basketball game, a young man with black, curly hair named Don Johnson attended the game. Immediately, he was struck by her beauty. It just so happened that Charlie Rooker, Jean’s father, had frequently carried his farming equipment to Marvin Johnson’s blacksmith shop in Ripley to have it worked on.
Somehow this young couple got acquainted, and after going together several months, on January 22, 1949, they were married. The minister who performed the ceremony was an old-fashioned preacher named Lacie Strong.
The Early Years of Ministry
In the late 1940’s, Jean heard the Apostolic message preached by Brother J.L. Pipkin.
In the summer of 1948 Brother Pipkin came to Blue Mountain, put up a tent, and preached a revival. It was under this tent that Sister Johnson heard the Gospel. In the fall of 1948, Brother Pipkin built a church in Blue Mountain and pastored there until his death. In January 1949, Sister Johnson received the Holy Ghost.
On January 9, 1951, Don received the Holy Ghost at the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in Blue Mountain. Several years before this time, in February 1947, he had been baptized in a lake near Ripley, Mississippi by Brother Russell Hamm.
From 1951 to 1957, Brother and Sister Johnson worked in the church in Blue Mountain. They taught Sunday School and were youth leaders. In the fall of 1954, Brother Johnson began preaching under the guidance of Brother Pipkin. For several years he would preach in nearby churches as opportunities became available. He also served as the District Youth Leader for the Mississippi District, Assemblies of the Lord Jesus Christ.
During these years at Blue Mountain, Brother and Sister Johnson ahd two children born into their home. The oldest child, David Lynn was born on September 13, 1950. Four years later, on December 21, 1954, a daughter named Donna Karen was born. Several years later, after the family had moved to Memphis, on February 19, 1959, the third and final child was born, a son named Charles Lane.
These years in Blue Mountain were happy years. Brother and Sister Johnson were able to build a new home there.
During this time, Brother Johnson worked at the Wyandotte Chemical Company where he eventually became a Superintendent. Sister Johnson worked at the Ripley Shoe Factory.
In 1957, Brother and Sister Johnson accepted the pastorate of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in Red Bay, Alabama. This church was located about eighty-five miles from their home in Blue Mountain. For almost two years Brother and Sister Johnson drove back and forth between Blue Mountain and Red Bay to pastor this church.
Many times they would drive eighty-five miles to church and eighty-five miles back home. Brother Johnson would change his clothes in the car and get back just in time to go to work at 11:00PM. He would then work all night long until 7:00 the next morning.
These were hard years, but they were years when many valuable lessons were learned which would help them down the road.
Early in 1958, Brother and Sister Johnson resigned from the church at Red Bay, not knowing that they were about to enter the most important phase of their ministry. Just a few weeks after this, a telephone call came from Brother J. Frank Wilson in Potts Camp, Mississippi. He told them that the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in Memphis, Tennessee needed a pastor and asked them if they would be interested in taking the church.