Former Negro League baseball player Charles Johnson fought against discrimination for most of his life. He played for the famed Chicago American Giants of the Negro League, pitching and playing outfield. Later in his life, he pushed for major league baseball to offer pensions to former Negro league players.
Johnson was born on August 7, 1909, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Johnson never knew his father; he lived with his mother, uncle, and grandmother. In 1925, he moved to Chicago to be with his dying mother, and from age fifteen he lived on his own. He worked at a grocery store on the South Side and became acquainted with Negro League great, Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe.
In 1930, Johnson went on his first tour of Canada with the Texas Giants and went with the team again in 1931. When he returned home to Chicago, the Great Depression had set in, forcing Johnson to rely on bread lines and flop houses to subsist. He later joined the famed Chicago American Giants of the Negro League
When Johnson was not playing baseball, he found work in stockyards and even took a job in electroplating. He married in 1942, and his wife forced him to give up traveling with the Giants. He quit playing in the Negro Leagues in 1944.
Johnson went to work for the Illinois Central Railroad Company in 1951 as a porter, lured by its pension plan. He became an active member of his union and helped file a lawsuit against the railroad in 1965 for discrimination after he was turned down for a special agent position. After winning the suit, he became the first African American special agent.
After five years of litigation, the railroad relented and he became the first African-American special agent for the IC. Johnson retired from the railroad in 1974. Johnson later worked to get himself along with former Negro League players accepted into a pension fund established by the Major League Base.Johnson lived in Chicago until his death in 2006.