Johnson, Howard E., 1935-

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BIOGHIST REQUIRED Howard "Stretch" Johnson was born in 1915 in Orange, New Jersey. He lived a colorful life, tap dancing with the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the Cotton Club and the Apollo in Harlem, serving in World War II in the army's segregated Buffalo Soldier unit, joining the Communist Party USA in 1940, and finally teaching about the history of jazz and engaging in social activism. Johnson was given the nickname "Stretch" for his long and lanky frame, which he maintained throughout most of his life.

Johnson's father gained stardom by playing on the black baseball teams of the Negro League. Stretch, however, more closely identified with his uncle, James Anderson, who was the founder of The Amsterdam News, an influential black newspaper in New York City. The Johnson family moved to Harlem in 1932, where Stretch's sister, Winnie became one of the featured dancers at the Cotton Club. She enlisted Stretch and later their brother Bobby to join the chorus line. The Johnson siblings performing under the name The Three Johnsons were featured in the ''New Faces of 1936'' and the ''Duke Ellington Revue of 1937'' at the Apollo Theater. Stretch Johnson also acted in a Harlem production of the Clifford Odets play, Waiting for Lefty .

Johnson was active with the NAACP since he was 15 years old. In 1940, when the Cotton Club decided to suspend its male chorus line, Johnson joined the Young Communist League of Harlem, a youth affiliate of the Communist Party of the United States of America. He was active in forcing Major League Baseball to accept a black player, passing out petitions at Yankee Stadium.

Amidst objection, Johnson married Martha Sherman, a fellow communist. The couple had three children, all girls. Sherman and Johnson eventually divorced. Johnson earned a general equivalency high school diploma, then a degree from Columbia University's College of General Studies, and taught black studies at the Fieldston School in the Bronx. He administered the Upward Bound program, which provided federal money for programs to steer disadvantaged youths to college for a participating institution, the Ethical Culture Society. He later taught sociology at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Stretch spent his later years with Ann Anthony, whom he met at an Art Appreciation course at Columbia University in 1962. The two lived in numerous places, engaging in activist causes wherever they went. This included a campaign to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Hawaii, in the Virgin Islands he set up a social services network, and in Galveston, Texas, he helped set up a community center in an impoverished neighborhood.

From the guide to the Howard "Stretch" Johnson Papers, 1923-2011, [Bulk Dates: 1980-2000]., (Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Howard "Stretch" Johnson Papers, 1923-2011, [Bulk Dates: 1980-2000]. Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Apollo Theatre (New York, N.Y.: 42nd Street). corporateBody
associatedWith Communist Party of the United States of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Cotton Club. corporateBody
associatedWith Duke Ellington Orchestra. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Tap dancing


Birth 1935



Ark ID: w61x0q21

SNAC ID: 35986024