Remembering Dr. Charles Johnson

The Duke Community was saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. Charles Johnson. He joined Duke in 1970 as the first Black faculty member in the School of Medicine and first Black physician on the faculty of Duke University. He was an important and vital pioneer at the School of Medicine.

In a 1990 article, the late Dr. Onye Akwari, the first Black professor of surgery, commented that “I don’t think people realize what Charlie has done in this institution. Charlie and Jim Carter [a psychiatrist who joined the faculty in 1971] were the initial black physicians in the institution, and these were very difficult days. They have served as the shields behind which Duke Medical Center achieved integration. It’s a matter of sociopolitical viewpoint whether Duke should be a diverse institution, but we cannot be a great institution till we are a diverse institution, representing all people.”

Another Duke trailblazer, the late Dr. Brenda Armstrong shared in the same article that “Dr. Johnson is probably the mentor for all of us who are black on the faculty. He personifies the importance of a black presence on the faculty and administrative level – bringing up issues, not feeling threatened to do that… The importance of preserving one’s character, his dedication to his patients, how he treats his patients… he has shaped the way I approach the delivery of medicine and how I approach the politics of medicine as they are played out.” During his 26 years on the faculty, Dr. Johnson was undoubtedly a gifted physician, dedicated mentor, and honest leader. In honor of his memory, we would like to highlight two video recordings of Dr. Johnson from the Medical Center Archives’ Audiovisual Collection.

The first is a recording of a Black History Month lecture given by Dr. Johnson at the Medical Center Library on February 26, 1999. In his talk, Dr. Johnson discusses his upbringing, his education, and influences both at Duke and elsewhere. He candidly describes his philosophy of practicing medicine, including the importance of patients' cultural needs. Toward the end, Johnson fields questions from the audience. A digitized version of this lecture is available to view here as part of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center’s Sights and Sounds collection

The second recording is from a January 6, 2004 event. "Before the Colors Fade” was an oral history series originated and hosted by Dr. Edward Halperin. It featured conversations with prominent emeritus or current members of the medical school faculty crucial in the growth and development of the School of Medicine and Duke University Health System. The hour-long conversation with Dr. Johnson may be viewed below or click here to view in a separate page. 

To learn more about Dr. Johnson and view additional materials related to his work at Duke, please contact the Archives.