Oct. 18, 2010 11:04 p.m.
J. Daniel Johnson knew he was going to UCLA when he was 12 years old. While growing up in Pritchett, Ala., Johnson read about men and women who were changing the world from a school in the West called UCLA.
“It was just one thing after another that reinforced my decision that UCLA was the place to come if you were a young, African American male and you wanted to achieve in society,” Johnson said.
Johnson had attended segregated schools since kindergarten.
Attending UCLA was an opportunity to attend school away from the racial tension in the newly desegregated colleges of the South.
“I didn’t want to have that kind of ongoing experience for the four years of my college life,” Johnson said. “When I came here, it was different to be sitting next to white kids, especially associating with white females. That was one of the biggest risks you could take as a black male in the South. Even talking to a white female … people were seriously hurt.”
The 1960s were both an exciting and an intense time to be attending school in Los Angeles. Johnson became chairman of the newly formed Black Student Union, for which he wrote an op-ed column in the Daily Bruin. The column covered topics from the war in Vietnam to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
“It was on all matters concerning African American students and society. … It was intended to be a reflection of the voice of the Black Student Union,” Johnson said. “Allowing white and black students to be aware of the issues of the day.”
The Black Student Union, which included a variety of people, from students involved in athletics to members of the glee club for which Johnson was a soloist, brought together African American students from all across campus. One of Johnson’s main projects included establishing special interest newspapers, which later led to the creation of Nommo, Ha’Am and Pacific Ties, which still exist on campus today.
“We just felt that we could overcome anything, we could accomplish anything, just give us the opportunity,” Johnson said. “I had this attitude that if you’re not blocking me, I’m going to make it.”