James “Coody” Johnson, an African Creek entrepreneur, interpreter, and politician, was a leading advocate for the rights of blacks and dual citizenship of the Creek and Seminole nations. He was born in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, as his mother fled to the region for protection as a refugee during the Civil War. His father, Robert Johnson, was a slave of Seminole John Jumper; and his mother, Elizabeth Johnson, was from Arkansas Town.
Johnson received his early education at the Presbyterian Mission, north of Wewoka, Oklahoma. His college education was later sponsored by the Seminole nation for his attendance to Lincoln University in Chester, Pennsylvania.
After graduating from college in 1884, Johnson returned to Indian Territory and spent time as a cowboy. He used his bilingual abilities and education to work as an interpreter for Judge Isaac Parker, who presided over the Federal District Court for Western Arkansas. Due to his legal education and experience in the Federal Courts, Johnson became one of the few freedmen who obtained dual citizenship in both the Creek and Seminole nations. He also served as the official interpreter for the Seminole nation.
A few years later, he decided to start his own law practice in Wewoka, located in the heart of the Seminole Nation. Johnson became a leading advocate in Creek politics and represented many Seminole freedmen during the period of the Dawes Enrollment and land allotment claims. Some of the cases were even argued before the U.S. Supreme court.
Before Oklahoma was granted statehood in 1907, Johnson was president of the Negro Protection League. He also led the protests against the Jim Crow laws that were being established for the newly emerging state of Oklahoma. His outspokenness and leadership skills made him a strong leader in the Black Seminole community. James Coody Johnson died at his home in Wewoka, Oklahoma in February 1927.