Albert Johnson Sr. was set on an Army career when he graduated high school, following in the footsteps of his father and brothers.
That might surprise those who have always known Johnson as an educator and mentor, a disciplinarian with a firm hand, a deep love for children and a keen interest in their lives in and out of the classroom. It's a title that has followed Johnson for decades, since his earliest days as a teacher and coach, and almost 20 years after he "retired" from education. It's one that helped him ease the transition for shocked students and families when Lawton Public Schools, bowing to federal mandates, announced it would close Lawton's last black school at the end of the 1966 school year. And, it still prompts a stern look or concerned question when Johnson sees a young person in need, or when he must bring an unruly meeting to order when residents are discussing an issue that has them agitated.
That wasn't the direction a young Johnson was planning after he graduated from Douglass School in 1946. The family was in Lawton because Johnson's father was stationed at Fort Sill. Dad was in the Army, two brothers had already enlisted and "I felt like it was my calling, too," Johnson said, noting he was shocked to be rejected because of a deformity in his left hand.
An athlete for years, Johnson, like his brothers, was able to go to college on an athletic scholarship. He enrolled in Winston-Salem Teachers College in North Carolina, planning to play ball as he earned a college degree in education.