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Tuskegee Airman and first African American teacher at Warner honored

Courtesy of the City of Wilmington

City of Wilmington and Red Clay Consolidated School District officials have installed a bust and wall display at Warner Elementary School recognizing Fred Johnson.

The former educator, athlete and veteran died last year. He graduated from Howard High School and fought in World War II as a Tuskegee Airman.

He received his pre-medical undergraduate degree from Indiana University, where he ran track & field. He started his career as an educator at Prairie View A&M University in Texas. He returned to Delaware and taught science at William C. Jason Comprehensive High School, the first all-black high school in Sussex County.


He finished his career at what was then Warner Junior High, where he was the first African American teacher and Chair of the Science Department. He also taught Physical Education and coached track at Warner.


“He never really looked at himself as a black person, he just looked at himself as a person," said Fred Johnson's wife, Margo Johnson. "And everybody there had the same goals he did: educate the children.”


Johnson was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2013 for his military service, his contributions to public education and his community service.


“He was raised in the day of racism where everything had to be separate. And he just totally ignored that," said Margo Johnson.

She adds her husband would have felt honored by this more modest recognition at Warner. “He would be so happy, but he would say, I basically did my job," she said.

“Fred Johnson is an icon of African American history, here in Delaware, and in the United States,” said Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki in a statement.  “His life spanned a period when the country was growing and progressing in its self-identity. His choices and sacrifices culminated in numerous contributions in sports history, military integration, educational equality and service to City and country.”

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.