When she learned she was to be honored as a Legacy Award winner at the New Pittsburgh Courier’s 2015 Women of Excellence event, Katie Everette Johnson said she had to be talked into accepting. Seeking credit was not what she was about.
“I don’t see myself as being a Legacy Award winner,” she said. “I never talked about the things I’ve done. I’ve been to the White House three times (while Lyndon Johnson was in office). Poor people were being short-changed so much and we wanted his administration to set up programs to counteract that. It’s just not something you brag about. It’s something God does himself.”
“She was a quiet storm—she just did things and you never knew. I’ll bet half of the people of color at the Port Authority don’t know it was her work that got them there.”
TWANDA CARLISLE, NAACP Pittsburgh Office Manager
On March 8, God took her home. After a lifetime of fighting for justice and opportunity for African Americans, Johnson died peacefully. She was 94.
Johnson said she began her civil rights mission at an early age, learning from the books her Sunday school teacher mother used for class. When she joined the Urban League in the 1940s, civil rights was her job.
While there, she and fellow workers organized sit-ins to desegregate a popular downtown eatery. The cooks, she said, would routinely and visibly, spit in their food. Johnson had an equally visible response.
“We just ate around it,” she said.
In 1954, she organized the Urban League’s National Conference in Pittsburgh–the first time it was held here. And along with the NAACP, helped to get the first Black engineer hired at a major city firm, and the first Black female hired at Bell Telephone.
In 1973, Johnson was hired by Port Authority Transit (PATransit), now Port Authority of Allegheny County, in the Media Relations department and was later promoted to manager of the Office of Equal Opportunity, a position she held until retirement on March 1, 1993.
While at PAT, her duties included monitoring the recruitment, hiring and promotion of Black employees, and seeing that authority contracts included Minority-, Women- and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises. She also is credited with creating Classroom on Wheels, a program where PAT drivers visited local schools to explain transportation and their jobs to students, in an effort, to address the problem of kids disrespecting bus drivers.