The oral history of 94-year-old Nellie Stone Johnson, an African-American who spent her life advocating equal rights,
organizing labor, and heralding education.
Born on a farm in Lakeville, Minnesota, in 1905, Johnson was the oldest of nine children. She rode horses at six, drove a
car at seven, and milked 30 cows a day when she was 12. With charm and intelligence, Johnson shares nearly a century of vivid
memories of her immersion in political life—as a child, she watched her father help organize a cooperative associate for dairy
farmers, and in 1998 she witnessed the election of Governor Jesse Ventura. Forced to fend for herself at an early age, Johnson
took a job at the Minneapolis Athletic Club and recruited employees to join the labor union (of which she would eventually
become vice president) as they rode the elevator she operated. Never religious, she describes her selfless outlook best by declaring,
—you could almost call politics my religion, my God." Throughout her life, Johnson "never had time for a man," and her most
important relationships were with fellow political progressives—whom she casually refers to as "Thurgood" (Marshall) or
"Hubert" (Humphrey), among others. With lively anecdotes and sharp hindsight, Johnson describes her election to the Minneapolis
library board, the seamstress business she set up and ran for years, her position on the state college board, the scholarship fund
she established, and the many political campaigns she worked on. From beginning to end, she maintains a clear, conversational
tone and a striking optimism toward her life’s work and ideals: "For people who tell me about the demise of politics, I tell them
to drop dead."
Rather heavy on political details, but Johnson’s appealing voice and youthful humor will earn readers’ admiration.