Katie Everette Johnson
Civil Rights heroine and Legacy Award winner, Ms. Katie Everette Johnson accomplished a lot during her nine decades on earth. She rarely talked about the things she did. Not only did Ms. Katie meet with President Lyndon Johnson, but she visited the White House three times. She told the President that poor people were being short-changed and she wanted his administration to create programs to counteract that. She has quietly changed the world - the one around her in the Hill District area of Pittsburgh and beyond. Johnson began her civil rights crusade as an Office Manager at the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. As Office Manager, she fought to improve working conditions for factory workers and worked to stop Whites from moving out of their neighborhoods when Blacks moved in. In the 1940’s, she and other Urban League co-workers staged sit-ins to desegregate a popular downtown Pittsburgh eatery. The cooks would make a point of spitting in their food, but the group outsmarted the cooks by eating around it.
Soon after, Ms. Katie became the first African-American manager at the Port Authority of Allegheny County. Her position included creating the company’s consumer relations department during the turbulent 1960’s. She was moved to Port Authority’s equal opportunity department where she handled discrimination complaints and ensured that some of the contracts went to Blacks and women. In addition, Johnson confronted the problem of kids disrespecting bus drivers by creating “Classroom on Wheels,” a program where the drivers went into local schools to explain transportation and their jobs to the students. The program went to public and private schools and worked with over 30,000 children. Bus drivers parked outside of the school and spent the day talking about the history of transportation. The program made the kids realize that the driver was a very important person.
In 1954, Ms. Katie organized the Urban League’s National Conference in Pittsburgh the first time it was held here. Along with the NAACP, she helped to get the first Black engineer hired at a major city firm, and the first Black female hired at Bell Telephone. Ms. Katie was a longtime devoted member of Bethel AME Church in the Hill District and a trustee since 1959. She was later promoted to manager of the Office of Equal Opportunity, a position she held until retirement on March 1, 1993. There are numerous published accounts of Ms. Katie’s activities. Here is a sample: She was a founding Board of Director of the Black Women’s Political Crusade and the Program for Female Offenders, Board of Director at Indiana University of PA, National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s advisory committee, and Board member at Small Seeds Development, Inc., Job Corp. and Dwelling House Savings and Loan Association.
Ms. Katie was born in Bainbridge, Ga., one of eight children. Her family moved to Western Pennsylvania when she was 13 years old. She was a graduate of Schenley High School, Duff’s Iron City College and the University of Pittsburgh. Ms. Katie secured a home mortgage before she was 25 years old and passed away at 94 years old of congestive heart failure.
To honor the lifetime achievement, we have created a program called “Girls Shine” dedicated to Ms. Katie’s memory. She will continue to inspire our work in the community as we uplift young girls here in Pittsburgh. We are proud of the work Ms. Katie has done and are dedicated to continuing her powerful legacy.