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Johnson, David Edwin (1901–1974)

Camille Davis Biography

David Edwin Johnson, minister and seminary administrator, son of Rev. and Mrs. David E. Johnson, was born in July 1901 in Point, Texas, in Rains County. He was one of nine children. He attended Houston College, earned a degree from Bishop College, and was awarded the doctorate of divinity at the North Texas Baptist College and Seminary in Denison, Texas. In 1922 he married Ila Mae Walker, a college-educated and accomplished woman from Hallsville, Texas. Two years after their marriage, he began his ministerial work.

Johnson served as a pastor in Melissa, Pilot Point, Mexia, Terrell, and Texarkana, Texas, as well as Ardmore, Oklahoma. Most of his pastoral career took place in Terrell and Texarkana, where he led the Bethlehem Baptist Church and Sunset Baptist Church respectively. He led the members of each of these congregations for ten years—first at Bethlehem and then at Sunset. In 1951 he retired from pastoral work to become dean of the Interracial Baptist Institute in Dallas, a school devoted to providing ministerial and theological training for preachers.

From 1951 until retirement in 1969, Johnson served as dean of the institute. During his tenure, the institute was renamed after him and subsequently called the D. Edwin Johnson Theological Bible Institute. In addition to working as a minister and as a dean, Johnson served in a variety of ways within the Baptist community. For twenty years, he was the president of the Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention, commonly referred to as the BME Convention. He spent the same amount of time as treasurer of the Home Mission Board. For thirty years, he was a member of the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., and moderator of the Friendship District Association. He and his wife, Ila Mae Walker Johnson, had five children: two boys and three girls. They also adopted a son. Their oldest daughter, Esther, preceded her parents in death during her junior year in college because of complications with diabetes. When raising his children, D. Edwin Johnson worked hard to make sure that his prominent position did not skew his children’s view of themselves or others. He frequently admonished them not to think they were any better or worse than those around them. He was also known to protect his children from those within the community by saying, “I am called to preach and not my children.”

On November 28, 1974, Thanksgiving Day, Johnson died due to natural causes. His funeral was held at the Good Street Baptist Church, the church where he and his family were members. He left his wife, children, and grandchildren to mourn him. The Theological Institute that bears his name was still operating in 2013.

Dallas Morning News, August 13, 1983. Mamie L. McKnight, ed., African American Families and Settlements of Dallas: On the Inside Looking Out (Dallas: Black Dallas Remembered, Incorporated, 1990). Lois Palfrey (daughter of D. Edwin Johnson), Telephone interview by author, August 9, 2012.


  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Religion
  • Baptist

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Camille Davis, “Johnson, David Edwin,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 27, 2020,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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