Black civil war veteran honored in Owosso

Michigan

After more than a year of researching the city of Owosso history, residents stumbled upon a long-forgotten African-American civil war veteran.

And today he was finally recognized.

His name is Alexander Johnson. He was also a business owner and a prominent person in Owosso.

Residents say they’re still learning more about his story but it’s only the beginning.

 “He was a self-supporting professional, a barber, a well-regarded member of the community,  and was welcomed by many of the civic leaders at the time,” said Tom Cook, member of Owosso Rotary Club. 

Alexander Johnson was also a civil war veteran, who’s story was lost in history. 

 “We’re hearing in little bits and pieces but it’s not the whole picture. And we want to look at the big picture of Owosso and go forward on our best foot,” said Barbara Bakeromerod, President of Owosso’s Rotary Club. 

Johnson was born a slave in Tennessee in 1833, he later ran away.

In 1865 he joined a Union regiment with African Americans in Kalamazoo to fight in the civil war. He moved to Canada where he married, then in 1870, he settled down in Owosso with his wife.  

“We’re not sure exactly what brought them to Owosso. There are two possibilities, one is that her brother was also in Owosso,” said Piper Brewer, Executive Director of Shiawassee Arts Center.

Another possibility is he and many other African Americans moved because of a home that served as the underground railroad.

“I’m thinking this woman who was the head of the underground railroad in Michigan was somehow related to the person who rented the house in Michigan. And that could be a possibility why they ended up in Owosso,” said Brewer.

Owosso became home to many African-Americans.

Johnson even opened up a barbershop but in 1871…”That tension, unfortunately, ended with 40 white vigilantes gathering together and driving out the black residents of Owosso,” said Cook in his speech. 

Johnson and two others were the only ones who were not chased out.

“We don’t know why they decided to stay, nor do we know the names or the stories of the black individuals that were driven from our community in 1871. But we do know Alexander Johnson stayed, that he was welcomed by the community and that he lived a prosperous life here,” said Cook.

 Today the Owosso Rotary Club decided to honor him and his story.”It’s a unique situation and there weren’t very many African-American people in Owosso so we want to highlight that there was,” said Bakeromerod.

The mayor of Owosso was also at today’s ceremony, and he gave a proclamation for Alex Johnson to the Owosso Rotary Club.  “I think when bad things happen you can never really fully undo them or do justice but I think starting with something like this is good, it’s just a good starting point,” said Christopher Eveleth, Mayor of Owosso. 

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