|Rare Book & Manuscript Library|
At a Glance
This small collection contains the personal papers of Howard "Stretch" Johnson. The materials range in date from 1923-2000 and consist of correspondence, clippings, and printed material as well as photographs, negatives, slides, audio and video cassettes, a scrapbook, and ephemeral material. Included are Johnson's notes and typescript for his nearly finished autobiography, as well as numerous letters and correspondence, both personal and work-related. A number of folders are present which present Johnson as "Social and Political Figure." These folders contain material which relates to work that Johnson did with the Communist Party USA and also later as a social activist in Brazil, Galveston, Texas, Hawaii, Paris, and St. Croix. A transcript is present of Johnson testifying under the Smith Act trials as a witness for the defense. There is material related to work that "Stretch" did as a professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz, under the folder title"The Educator." Several of Johnson's writings are present, including a pamphlet he wrote for the National Veterans Committee of the Communist Party USA under the folder title"Author." There are a number of photographs in the collection, mainly copies, of performers at the Cotton Club as well as articles and clippings about the Cotton Club, and jazz more generally. The collection contains several audio and video cassettes, of note are various interviews with Johnson. The scrapbook is made up of family photographs, mainly of Stretch, his wife, and their children ranging in date from 1945-1952.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.
This collection has no restrictions.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Howard "Stretch" Johnson Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
No additional material expected
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Papers processed Adrien Hilton 09/18/2012.
Finding Aid written Adrien Hilton 09/19/2012.
2012-10-02 xml instance created by Adrien Hilton
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
History / Biographical Note
Howard "Stretch" Johnson was born in 1915 in Orange, New Jersey. He lived a colorful life, tap dancing with the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the Cotton Club and the Apollo in Harlem, serving in World War II in the army's segregated Buffalo Soldier unit, joining the Communist Party USA in 1940, and finally teaching about the history of jazz and engaging in social activism. Johnson was given the nickname "Stretch" for his long and lanky frame, which he maintained throughout most of his life.
Johnson's father gained stardom by playing on the black baseball teams of the Negro League. Stretch, however, more closely identified with his uncle, James Anderson, who was the founder of The Amsterdam News, an influential black newspaper in New York City. The Johnson family moved to Harlem in 1932, where Stretch's sister, Winnie became one of the featured dancers at the Cotton Club. She enlisted Stretch and later their brother Bobby to join the chorus line. The Johnson siblings performing under the name The Three Johnsons were featured in the ''New Faces of 1936'' and the ''Duke Ellington Revue of 1937'' at the Apollo Theater. Stretch Johnson also acted in a Harlem production of the Clifford Odets play, Waiting for Lefty.
Johnson was active with the NAACP since he was 15 years old. In 1940, when the Cotton Club decided to suspend its male chorus line, Johnson joined the Young Communist League of Harlem, a youth affiliate of the Communist Party of the United States of America. He was active in forcing Major League Baseball to accept a black player, passing out petitions at Yankee Stadium.
Amidst objection, Johnson married Martha Sherman, a fellow communist. The couple had three children, all girls. Sherman and Johnson eventually divorced. Johnson earned a general equivalency high school diploma, then a degree from Columbia University's College of General Studies, and taught black studies at the Fieldston School in the Bronx. He administered the Upward Bound program, which provided federal money for programs to steer disadvantaged youths to college for a participating institution, the Ethical Culture Society. He later taught sociology at the State University of New York at New Paltz.
Stretch spent his later years with Ann Anthony, whom he met at an Art Appreciation course at Columbia University in 1962. The two lived in numerous places, engaging in activist causes wherever they went. This included a campaign to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Hawaii, in the Virgin Islands he set up a social services network, and in Galveston, Texas, he helped set up a community center in an impoverished neighborhood.