Little Known Black History Fact: William H. Johnson

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  • William H. Johnson, an African-American man, was the personal valet of President Abraham Lincoln. Johnson was employed by the president well before he went to the White House. He was there when Lincoln received the Republican Nomination for president.
    William Johnson accompanied the president to the famous Gettysburg Address in November 1863.

    When Lincoln became president, he was pressured to fire Johnson because he wasn’t the traditional “paper bag” skin color of the other employees. Johnson was indeed fired, but Lincoln referred him for a high profile job with the U.S. Treasury Department. Johnson also continued to do some odd jobs for the president, including fittings, valet and barber services, despite White House protocol.

    The close friendship between Lincoln and Johnson was under question for years; the president co-signed a loan for Johnson and buried him when he died. It may have been out of friendship or out of guilt. William H. Johnson died in January 1864 after nursing President Lincoln back to health when he showed symptoms of smallpox during the trip to deliver the Gettysburg Address.

    When Johnson passed away, it was said that President Lincoln had buried his former servant in Arlington Cemetery on a plot with a tombstone that read “William H. Johnson, Citizen.”

    President Lincoln never refuted the fact that he and William H. Johnson were friends, not even to the public.

    The character of William H. Johnson is loosely portrayed by actor Anthony Mackie in the newly released film, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” in theaters now.
     

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