Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Howard "Stretch" Johnson papers, 1923-2011, bulk 1980-2000

Summary Information


The Howard "Stretch" Johnson Papers document the life of Howard Johnson, known for most of his life as "Stretch." Johnson was a tap dancer with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and performed in Harlem at the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater in the 1930s. After joining the Communist Party of the United States of America in 1940, Johnson went on to engage in social activism for most of his life, living in a number of places, including Brazil, Galveston, Texas, Hawaii, Paris, and St. Croix. The Papers contain correspondence, both personal and work related, as well as a nearly finished typescript of Stretch's autobiography. There are a number of photographs, mainly copies of the various performers at the Cotton Club, as well as audio and videocassettes, and ephemera. Additionally, the collection contains a family scrapbook with photos from the late 1940s and early 1950s.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#1634
Bib ID 9681555 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Johnson, Howard Eugene, 1915-2000
Title Howard "Stretch" Johnson papers, 1923-2011, bulk 1980-2000
Physical Description 5 linear feet (6 document boxes, 2 flat boxes, 1 index card box)
Language(s) English .

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.




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.

Preferred Citation

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

Processing Information

Papers processed Adrien Hilton 09/18/2012.

Finding Aid written Adrien Hilton 09/19/2012.

Revision Description

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.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Audiocassettes Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Digital Images Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Photographs Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Sound recordings Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Video recordings (physical artifacts) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Videotapes Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Apollo Theatre (New York, N.Y. : 42nd Street) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Communist Party of the United States of America Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Cotton Club Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Duke Ellington Orchestra Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Harlem Renaissance Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Scrapbooks Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Tap dancing Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

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.

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Series I: Howard "Stretch" Johnson Papers, 1923-2011

Documents, Photographs, and Negatives

Political and Social Figure

Box 1 New Paltz, New York, 1947-1963, 1971-1982, undated, 1947-1963, 1971-1982, undated

Box 1 Brazil, 1988

Box 1 St. Croix, 1991

Box 1 Paris, 1995-1996

Box 1 Galveston, Texas, 1996-1999

Box 1 Obituaries, 2000

Box 1 Dr. Martin Luther King Interim Commission Report, 1990

Box 1 Hawaii, 1986-1990, (2 folders)

Box 1 Smith Act Trail--Transcript of Johnson's Testimony, Witness for the Defense,, 1949

Box 1 Jackie Robinson Project, 1995, undated

Cotton Club Venue

Box 1 Copies, 1928-1933, 1980, undated, 1928-1933, 1980, undated

Box 2 Photographs of Frequenters, 1923-1932, undated, 1923-1932, undated

Box 2 Related Articles, 1928-1977, 1984, undated, 1928-1977, 1984, undated

Box 2 Photographs of Performers, Bands, and Show Details, 1933-1937, undated, 1933-1937, undated

Cotton Club Film

Box 2 Articles and Related Writings, 1980-1984, undated, 1980-1984, undated, (2 folders)

Box 2 Stretch and the Government--the Ongoing Battle, 1981-1995, undated, 1981-1995, undated

Box 2 Literature on Harlem and Jazz, 1930, 1988-1995, undated, 1930, 1988-1995, undated, (2 folders)

Box 2 Health, 1999, undated

Box 2 Negatives, undated

Box 2 Slides, undated

Box 2 Copies of Photographs, 1934-1947, undated, 1934-1947, undated

Box 3 Telegram, 1945

Box 3 Interview "Stretch's Life" Kay Takora, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1988

Box 3 Interview "Stretch's Life" Kay Takora, Honolulu, Hawaii--CDs, 1988

Box 3 "The Performer", 1936, 1942, 1983, undated, 1936, 1942, 1983, undated

Box 3 Interview and Letters on Stretch, 2011, undated

Box 3 Term Papers, NYU, 1973

Box 3 Notes for Autobiography, undated

Box 3 "Stretch" Autobiography, undated

Box 3 Bibliography and Chronological Autobiography, undated

Box 3 "Author", 1947-1995

Box 3 Newspaper Clippings, 1946-2001

Box 3 Private Correspondence (Non-Work Related) and Personal Papers, 1957-1997, undated, 1957-1997, undated

Box 4 "The Educator", 1974-1999, undated, 1974-1999, undated

Box 4 Further Research, 1982-1995, undated, 1982-1995, undated

Box 4 Handwritten, 1975-1978, undated, 1975-1978, undated

Box 4 Letters, 1982-1995, undated, 1982-1995, undated

Box 4 Miscellaneous, 1946-2000, undated, 1946-2000, undated, (3 folders)


Box 5 Melanin: The Chemical Key to Black Greatness, , 1988

Box 5 Natal Horoscope of Dr. Howard Johnson, , undated

Box 5 Report to the Governor of the State of Hawaii, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Interim Commission,, 1989


Box 5 Blues Land: A Portrait in American Music, , 1993

Box 5 Career Awareness Program Interview Howard Johnson on Harlem Renaissance, , undated

Box 5 Imitation of Life , 1959

Box 5 London Lindy Hop Festival Cabaret's Jiving Lindy Hoppers on TV, 1996, 1998, 1996, 1998

Box 5 Paul Robeson: Here I Stand, 1999; Paul Robeson Jr. and Ossie Davis, 1999; A Hymn for Alvin Ailey, 1999; Flying High: The Nicholas Brothers, 1999, 1999;, 1999;, 1999;, 1999

Box 5 A Walk through Harlem , 1999

Box 9 Heir to an Execution (the Rosenbergs), Ivy Meeropol, 2004

Box 9 Paul Robeson , undated

Box 9 Seeing Red James Klein and Julia Reichert,, undated


Box 9 Photographs on DVD (unknown content), undated

Box 9 Seeing Red, James Klein and Julia Reichert, undated (3 DVDs), undated


Box 5 Felix Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor, , 1998

Box 5 Johannes Brahms Sonata no. 1 for cello and piano Sonata no. 2; Yo-Yo Ma and Emmanual Ax, 1985

Box 5 Play On Broadway Musical, 1997


Box 6 Discussion of Operation Desert Storm, 1991

Box 6 George, Dr. Herman--Race Relations, 1982

Box 6 Jamal, Mumia Abu--Speech at Press Conference at Unesco, Paris, France, 1995 (2 tapes), 1995

Box 6 Jamal, Mumia Abu Evening Centre Cult de la Clef, 1995

Box 6 Johnson, Howard--Interview, 1984 (4 tapes), 1984

Box 6 Johnson, Howard--Interview, 1995

Box 6 Mood Indigo Ellington Suites , undated

Box 6 People of Color I and II Presentation by Howard Johnson, 1995 (2 tapes), 1995

Box 6 Radzin, Stenka--Cradle Will Rock,, undated

Box 6 Rehm, Diane--Seeing Red, 1984

Box 6 Scott-Heron, Gil and Jackson, Brian--Winter in America, undated

Box 6 Thakar, Vimala--Mediation as a Way of Life,, 1983

Scrapbooks and Other Photographs

Box 7 Souvenir Photographs, undated (2 photos), undated

Box 7 Photographs, 1995-1999 undated, 1995-1999, undated, (2 folders)

Box 7 Scrapbook, 1944-1952 undated, 1944-1952, undated, (6 folders)


Box 8 Reproduction of $20 Gold Piece

Box 8 Brazilian Workers Banner

Box 8 Soviet Union Banner with 22 Pins from Trip to Moscow

Box 8 Business Cards, Paris, France Address (5 items)

Box 8 Silver AA Medallion with Chain

Box 8 Green and Black Buffalo Soldier Pin

Box 8 Soviet Union Pin, CCCP

Box 8 Lacquered Russian Boxes (2 boxes)

Box 8 USA Olympic Pin

Box 8 Unidentified Pin

Box 8 Subway Tokens (5 tokens)

Box 8 Blanket in African-American Colors