Biography: Louis R. Johnson (1910-1988)
In 1939, Louis R. Johnson left a football coaching position at Jefferson High School in Charlottesville, VA to become the coach of four major sports (track and field, baseball, football, and basketball) at Parker-Gray High School. Over the next 20 years, Coach Johnson would produce some of the best teams and athletes in the state of Virginia; however, this fame was tempered with the realities of life in a segregated society. For example, the team had to travel from Alexandria to cities such as Roanoke, Charlottesville, or Petersburg in an open-bed canvas truck filled with hay, because there were no hotels or eating establishments available to African Americans.
Because of segregation and financial instability, conditions at the school were difficult as well. Parker-Gray lacked proper locker room facilities; the gymnasium was the size of an orchestra pit; and the school's football field was only 75 yards (to score a touchdown, the player would have to move an additional 25 yards to complete the 100-yard requirement).
Despite these difficulties, Johnson continued his efforts to encourage his charges to become outstanding athletes and students. His efforts resulted in athletes who went on to receive team recognition in the following categories: All Metropolitan Football Team, Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Teams, All Mid-American Conference, CIAA Wrestling and Boxing Championships, Pittsburgh Courier Black College Hall of Fame and other college Halls of Fame. Several of Coach Johnson's athletes went on to play for the National Football League, the Canadian Football Conference, and the American Football Conference.
Many became famous: Earl Lloyd, the first African American to play in the National Basketball Association and a Naismith Hall of Famer; Canadian Football professionals Horace Burton and William "Red" Jackson; and Charles Price, player for the Los Angeles Dons pro football team, who later served as a Fairfax County public school administrator. Other protégés included wrestler Aaron Anderson, Jr., an athletic and academic standout at Virginia State College, who went on to make a major contribution to the NASA program; and U.S. Air Force Colonel (Ret.) Tommy Turner, a Parker-Gray football player who went on to fly bombers for the Strategic Air Command and C-141s for the Military Air Command.
During his two decades of service to the Parker-Gray community, Coach Johnson instilled his students with a strong work ethic, and the vision and ambition to look beyond the limitations of racism and segregation to building a future of educational, economic, social equality. Many Parker Gray alumni fondly speak of Coach Johnson, his guidance, and his insistence on achievement, leading one alumni member to remark, "He was more than just a coach; he helped mold me into a man." His legacy of education and service to youth has resonated throughout the history of the City of Alexandria, and serves as an inspiration for generations to come.