JOHNSON, ISAAC COTTRELL
JOHNSON, ISAAC COTTRELL (1944–2012). Isaac Cottrell Johnson, minister, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, son of A. C. and Beatrice (Cooper) Johnson, was born in Dallas, Texas, on August 14, 1944. He had one brother named Albert and two sisters named Marilyn and Eddie. His parents were devout Christians and insisted that their children be active in church. In fact, Johnson and his siblings spent their childhoods attending two churches—Wheatley Church of God in Christ with their mother and St. John Missionary Baptist Church with their father. In the midst of both congregations, they were taught old hymns, a genre of music that became Johnson’s favorite and remained so for the rest of his life. Johnson also spent time as a Boy Scout and a shoeshine boy at Kennedy’s Barber Shop in South Dallas.
Johnson attended Lincoln High School in South Dallas. Because of his love for sports, his peers called him “Pro.” In addition to playing sports, Johnson sang in his high school choir. He graduated from Lincoln High School in 1963. After graduating, he moved to Los Angeles and attended Los Angeles Community College. While in Los Angeles, he married Artha Barrie. The couple had seven children: one daughter and six sons. During this time, he began working for the Los Angeles school district.
Johnson’s life began to change once he joined the West Angeles Church of God in Christ. He began serving as a deacon and helping the homeless on skid row. This work with the homeless caused Johnson to dedicate the rest of his life to serving his fellow man.
In the 1970s Johnson moved back to Dallas and returned to St. John Missionary Baptist Church, where he became a minister in 1983. He became acquainted with the jail and prison ministries in Texas and began asking St. John and other churches to join forces in order to meet the needs of Texas prisoners. Johnson called this group the Coalition of Churches in Ministry, which became the first religious coalition to service prisons all over the state. The ministry eventually grew into a complete nonprofit organization that weekly serviced prisoners, as well as provided Christmas gifts, and bus or plane tickets for inmates once they were released. The Coalition of Churches in Prison Ministry also began a reentry home for women who were transitioning from prison into society.
Soon after starting the Coalition of Churches in Ministry, Johnson began a delivery company entitled Ike’s Moving and Delivery. The business was started in order to give recently-released prisoners an opportunity for employment. Johnson wanted to teach his employees how to work in private industry, and he wanted them to establish a legitimate work history so that they would be more attractive to potential employers. Many former prisoners used Ike’s Moving and Delivery as a transition station into professional careers and society at large.
Johnson also found time to help the less fortunate in foreign lands. In the early 1980s he began sending contributions to Haiti in order to educate children after meeting a Haitian minister who explained the need for educational materials. Johnson not only made monthly contributions to Haitian educational efforts, he began recruiting others to do the same. Because of his work, a Haitian school was named after him and his second wife, Florestine.
In 1988 Johnson married Florestine Wilson, a Sunday school superintendent at his church. She became his ministry and service partner. She allowed Johnson to be the creative force behind his operations, and she was the organization and planning manager behind the scenes. Florestine Wilson had one daughter named Keesha from a previous marriage.
In 2010 Reverend Johnson retired from the Coalition of Churches in Prison Ministry and from his delivery business. However, he remained active in the coalition on a part-time basis. During the year that Johnson retired, he took on a new full-time position. The Dallas Life Foundation asked him to become the director of Spiritual Life. He accepted the position and worked until he became too ill to perform his tasks.
In early 2012 Johnson suffered a stroke that impaired his speech and movement. He was cared for in a rehabilitation center with the expectation that he would survive the stroke and eventually return home. This never occurred. He died on May 22, 2012. His funeral was held at St. John Missionary Baptist Church on May 25. At the funeral, numerous ministers, ministry leaders, and former employees of Johnson praised him for his extraordinary compassion and love for those he encountered. Many claimed that their lives took a different and more positive trajectory because of Johnson’s influence. In his funeral program his family requested that donations be made to the Harmony Ministry in Haiti and the Coalition of Churches in Ministry. He was buried in Laurel Land Cemetery.
The Celebration of a Life Lived for Christ: Reverend Isaac C. Johnson, A Servant of God, Funeral program, May 25, 2012. Dallas Morning News, May 24, 2012; June 1, 2012. Rev. Holsey Hickman, Interview by author, June 9, 2012.
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