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The Late Adele Johnson Impacted Black History, Black Futures

Adele Johnson at a 2019 event at the Black History Museum. (Photo: Louise Keeton/VPM News)

People who knew her called Adele Johnson a graceful visionary. Johnson, executive director of the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, died from pancreatic cancer this week. 

One of Johnson’s finishing touches at the museum was a wall of her favorite quotes from famous Black Americans. Malcolm X, Douglas Wilder and Serena Williams talk about perseverance, the importance of preparation and vision. Those ideals show through in her friendships and work. 

“Adele always said that this was her dream job,” says Mary Lauderdale, visitor services manager. “We are so grateful to her, her passion. Her passion for the history and for the culture of the institution.” 

Rev. Ben Campbell, with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, worked with Johnson years before she came to the museum.

“She was present in conversation and thoughtful and saw opportunities. This was a person with energy,” Campbell said. “And the energy was in her face and in her mind and the way she approached things.”

Campbell called her a visionary. Johnson revived the Richmond Public Schools Education Foundation and founded a non-profit that connects minority business owners to economic opportunities -- at a time when that was rarely happening. 

“We’re talking about the significant work that has to be done to get an economy that incorporates people regardless of race,” Campbell said. 

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.