GATHERED AT OAK HILL on Veterans Day were Owosso Rotarians Barbara BakerOmerod and Tom Cook with Owosso Mayor Chris Eveleth. Eveleth presented the Rotarians with a proclamation honoring the life of Black Civil War veteran Alexander Johnson.

(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)


  The Owosso Rotary Club and others honored Black Civil War Veteran Alexander Johnson during a Veterans Day service at Oakhill Cemetery where he is buried along with many other Civil War Veterans. After Alexander Johnson’s significant part in Owosso’s history began to come to light in recent months, the Rotary Club, along with assorted residents and city officials, decided to recognize Johnson.

   Alexander Johnson, a Black man born a slave, ran away from slavery and eventually joined with a Union regiment of African Americans in Kalamazoo in 1865 to fight in the Civil War. He moved to Canada, married Emma Sayles and then in 1870, he shifted his life back to Michigan, moving to Owosso with his wife. In Owosso, Johnson became a well-liked barber and respected member of the Owosso community.

   Rotarians and city officials are still seeking more information on his life and are particularly interested in finding out why Johnson decided on Owosso.

   Piper Brewer, Executive Director of the Shiawassee Arts Center, has surmised that Johnson might have been connected to a previous home in Owosso that served as the Underground Railroad or that his wife’s brother lived here.

   Following the Civil War, Owosso was home to a number of Black residents – but that didn’t last long.

   Tom Cook of the Rotary Club explained in his Oak Hill presentation how racial tensions at the time culminated in about 40 white vigilantes driving the Black residents out of Owosso. Obviously, this was not a high point of local history.

   Black residents were driven out, but three Black individuals were permitted to stay in the city – and one was Johnson. It is not known why the three Black people remained, though that information is being sought.

   What is known is Johnson remained in Owosso until his death in 1907. He was welcomed and liked by residents and was a prosperous businessman.

   Barbara BakerOmerod of the Rotary Club offered that Johnson’s story was important to share. “He is one of many veterans, but it’s an important story.”

   Reflecting on Johnson as a veteran and a Black man, Cook and BakerOmerod were making an effort to feature a part of Owosso’s history that has been mostly forgotten or overlooked.

   Owosso Mayor Chris Evelth was on hand and presented a proclamation “commemorating the life and service of Alexander Johnson.”

   In reading the proclamation, Eveleth shared how “an unfortunate and regrettable series of events led to Mr. Johnson being one of the only remaining residents of color in Owosso, his history and legacy largely forgotten in the community until fairly recently.

   It is fitting he be honored for his contributions to society and it is the intent of this Office that his life and legacy be recognized. Now, therefore, be it proclaimed that I, Christopher T. Eveleth, Mayor of the City of Owosso, on behalf of the citizens of Owosso, hereby recognize and honor the service of this one time Owosso resident, businessman and Civil War Veteran, and posthumously thank him for his service and contributions to the Owosso community.”

Owosso Rotary Highlights the Legacy of Black Civil War Veteran was last modified: November 23rd, 2021 by Karen Elford