S.B. Civil Rights Icon Bonnie Johnson Succumbs
Bonnie Sheree Johnson
An end of an era. With the sudden loss of Bonnie Johnson, the legendary “League of Mothers” is no more. They came at a time when San Bernardino needed heroes… unafraid, unbought and unbossed. Bonnie Johnson, Frances Grice, Valerie Pope-Ludlam, and Earline Mayfield sued the school district and in a landmark Supreme Court case, local schools were forced to desegregate. Bonnie Johnson succumbed on December 13.
The League of Mothers changed the trajectory of education in San Bernardino and even made the current composition of the Board of Trustees possible.
During the school battle, the League of Mothers called for a boycott of the schools to demonstrate the resolve of families fighting for a better, and more equitable education for children. The “Freedom Schools” were led by committed parents and leaders, and attended by students who became future leaders of the city.
The battle to desegregate San Bernardino schools became a dangerous fight with personal sacrifices by the members of the League of Mothers, with threats of hanging, cross burning, KKK activities and shootings as the protests heated up. With the aid of the NAACP, many court battles ensued, ending with a mandated end to segregation in the San Bernardino public school system.
Bonnie Johnson was a consummate and energetic advocate for civil rights. She gave time and resources to people and programs to uplift the community. Even though she was known primarily for her leadership as part of the League of Mothers, in truth she had her hand in many successful ventures to improve conditions for all citizens, not just a favored few.
Bonnie Sheree Johnson was born on Christmas Day in 1934 in Kansas City, Missouri to Oscar and Mary (Celestine) Buckles. Her family moved to San Bernardino when she was 10 years old and she attended Mills Elementary School, Sturges Jr. High School and San Bernardino High School. She enrolled in San Bernardino Valley College and received a Certificate in Stenography. She also received her AA degree.
Bonnie married Arthur R.D. Johnson and raised three children, Larry, Deborah, and Kae Johnson. According to her family, Art was the breadwinner and Bonnie was content as a wife, mother and homemaker.
As a stay at home mom Bonnie was enthusiastically engaged in the P.T.A and other activities involving her children. That’s when she noted the disparity in segregated schools. Bonnie adamantly refused to deny her children the “American Dream.”
In the 1970’s, Bonnie became the owner of Greenwood Bail Bonds, a business that she ran successfully for over 40 years. Often, she looked outside her office window and remarked how she remembered when Waterman Avenue was just a dirt road. She kept those thoughts in her memory as she often stated, “I can only move forward if I remember where I came from.” That attitude made Bonnie a torchbearer and catalyst in San Bernardino.
Her compassion and generosity has been recognized and honored by many community leaders and politicians. She was recognized by the San Bernardino Unified School District for her fervent devotion to students in bringing about desegregation/integration and fostering a sense of equality in San Bernardino schools. Her many accolades document her tireless efforts and dedication as a role model for youth.
Those who preceded her in passing include: father, Oscar Buckles; mother, Mary Celestine E. Washington; stepfather, Robert Washington; sisters, Mary Belle McGinnis and Jacqueline Grace Beavers; brother, Samuel Fellows and son, Larry Johnson.
Bonnie has left to cherish her memory her sister Sheree Louise Yarbrough; daughters, Kae Johnson and Deborah Johnson; granddaughters, Kelle Sheree Johnson and Heather Sheree Johnson; great grandson, Arthur R.D. Johnson II (A.J.) and a host of nieces, nephew and friends.
Her memorial service will be held at Ecclesia Christian Fellowship, located at 1314 E. Date St. in San Bernardino, on January 9, 2020 at 11AM.