Gerald W. Johnson: Scotland County’s Pioneering Journalist and Noted Historian

Gerald White Johnson (1890-1980), born in Riverton (near Wagram in Scotland County), was a giant among American scholars, friend and colleague of famous author H.L. Mencken on the Baltimore Sun, speech writer and adviser to United States presidents, founder of the School of Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill, noted national historian, philosopher for the New South, and one of John Charles McNeill’s “sunburnt boys.” Johnson referred to Riverton as a “state of mind which all those born there possess and are possessed by.” Johnson states that the “quiet waters” [of the Lumbee River itself] are the place where once I looked upon life and found it golden.” In an era when it was far more difficult than today to publish, he was sole author of more than forty books, and his career spanned nearly seventy-five years, and produced approximately fifteen million words. Often questioning the status quo, Johnson insisted that “the closed mind, if closed long enough, can be opened by nothing short of dynamite.” Three years ago, a state historical maker to Johnson was placed on Highway 401 in Wagram next to the one honoring North Carolina’s first recognized Poet Laureate, John Charles McNeill. This presentation by Johnson’s cousin, owner of the Johnson birth site, focuses on how his life and works were influenced by his Riverton roots.