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Johnson, Cernoria M.

Cernoria M. Johnson (1909-1990) — Civil Rights Activist and Advocate for State Nursing Home Ombudsman Programs


Cernoria Johnson’s pioneer work spanned the years from the U.S. Works Project Administratio program in the state of Oklahoma to the implementation of the National Nursing Home Ombudsman Program for the U.S. Administration on Aging in the 1970’s. She was born in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. She grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma at a time when most activities in that state were racially segregated. In fact, during the infamous Tulsa race riots of 1921, she and her family were incarcerated briefly at the state fairgrounds. They were rescued from there by her mother’s employer. She went to Langston University and became a school teacher.

With the establishment of the Works Project Administration in the 1930’s she became a supervisor of the Negro sewing rooms. She was later employed by the State Department of Public Welfare in Welfare Services and worked with the Oklahoma City YWCA in its efforts to develop more integrated groups.

Johnson received her master’s degree in social work from the Atlanta School of Social Work in the 1940s and in the 1950s worked on a Ph.D. at Columbia University School of Social Work.

Cernoria Johnson was the director of the Washington office of the National Urban League from the late 1950’s to the early 1970’s where she was a close colleague of Whitney Young. During her years with the Urban League, she was involved with the development and passage of the Great Society legislation and she served on the first advisory committee to the Medicaid Program enacted in 1965. She retired from the Urban League in the early 1970s but then in 1974 was appointed as a special consultant to the Commissioner of Aging, Arthur Fleming, with the responsibility of implementing the National Program of Nursing Home Ombudsmen. It was her responsibility to develop policy and program guides based upon the nursing home ombudsmen demonstrations that had been supported through the Public Health Service and to establish in each state’s Office of Aging, a nursing home ombudsmen program. Within a short span of about three years, she had established this program throughout the country. Cernoria Johnson retired from the U.S. Administration on Aging in 1977, but continued her work in informal advocacy until her death in 1990.

Republished from: NASW Foundation

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Social Welfare History Project (2011). Cernoria M. Johnson (1909-1990) – Civil rights activist and advocate for state nursing home ombudsman programs. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from

2 Replies to “Johnson, Cernoria M.”

  1. Denise L Shipp says:

    I had the privilege and the honor to have worked with Cernoria Johnson at DREW Administration on Aging. I was her secretary. She was a very graceful lady wwho spoke often of her work with the Urban League. I often thought of her throughout the yrs.

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