RIP ‘The Shepherd’: Honoring Rev. Manson Johnson

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By: Omowale Luthuli-Allen

A good soldier stays on the battlefield until he receives orders from the Commander to come home. No matter how challenging the circumstances on the battlefield, the good soldier fights and perseveres to the very end. Houston’s beloved “Shepherd” Manson B. Johnson died after suffering complications due to COVID-19. He put up a good fight, now it’s time for him to rest.

During the turbulent 1960’s Holman Street Baptist Church was under the dynamic leadership of Pastor Douglas. This was a church that could be counted on to stand in the gap during the time of transformation. Hope had declared that a change is gonna come.

This change would involve a man child in the promised land. Pastor Manson B. Johnson lived in the black belt community of Starkville, Mississippi as a child. Starkville was home to several colleges and was a bastion of the Old South. In the 20’s, black men had been lynched and Klan Rallies were commonplace. Blood was in the Mississippi fields.

Johnson’s family possessed a deep pedigree in that they were distinguished educators.

Before he was Pastor Johnson, he understood that he had a mission to fulfill, to reap because others had sowed.

The gift of Texas Southern University and Prairie View extended the educational pedigree for Johnson. He was moved to be the Mathematics chairperson at the challenging Cullen Middle School in the near Foster Place Community. Johnson was in the process of being gifted with the attributes to lead a flock.

Moses had no idea of the mission that he was prepared for. We are not measuring Johnson by the Moses or Abraham yardstick, only by the charge and mission that was given to him. As he was living an exemplary life, he was rewarded and put in the vise grip and shaken. The evil forces attempted to sift him as wheat and chase him off the path. Indeed, God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called.

Johnson served honorably as Pastor of the Holman Street flock for 43 long years. His community stood a few blocks from a black tar heroin distribution site and crushing poverty in the bottoms. The vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow slapped him in the face almost daily.

Manspn Johnson among students in 1967 TSU / HPD riot

Johnson, while a student at TSU, endured an invasion of the police at TSU in 1967. He was strip search and forcibly detained. Johnson knew that the Christian fight was not an easy fight. His scripture had taught him that Paul said to Timothy, “Thou therefore endure suffering as a good soldier.” This riveting experience only steadied and increased his resolve to serve.

Johnson preached and taught living holy to get the reward of Heaven in the next life, however, he built programs to establish the good life on this side of the Jordan. Religion was not opium nor an escape for him. Eastside Village, one of the many ministries was an ancillary project to increase the competency and fighting ability of his congregation and community members. Many residents are fluent in Spanish and pursuing higher education through the unique partnerships and symbiotic relationships that he participated in.

Johnson was the prototype of the kind of pastor that was distressed by witnessing his people wandering in the desert as the University of Houston and other commercial forces were devouring the available land west of I-45 and Holman Street.

Because he knew who he was working for, he set loose many ministries for uplift, singles, boys, economic development ministries.

Rabbi Kushner captures the essence of the MAN SON. We quote from the book that Johnson loved, Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.

Chapter 13 of the book of Leviticus tells the community how to deal with the case of a man who is quarantined after contracting a highly-contagious skin disease. We read in Leviticus 13:3-4 that twice a week the village priest who was also the medical authority, was to examine the person to see if the skin lesions were superficial or if they extended deep into the skin, and to evaluate whether the person was ready to be reintegrated into society. That prompts the commentator to remark that to estimate accurately the depth of the wound, both of Kohen’s eyes would have to be functioning properly. He was able to see the infection but also the healthy flesh around it.

Thus, Kushner concludes that a narrow-minded or one-eyed minister cannot judge cases of impurity. He would see the sore and not the whole person.

There is no way that you can pastor an urban church for 43 years if you do not see people with both eyes. Seeing the Holman Street community and the people that he served with both eyes reinforces to the good shepherd why he loves them. There is no way that you can have 40 plus years of service and marriage to a soulmate unless you love them.

It is Nobler to be a MAN SON than a cabinet member at 1600 Pennsylvania, Washington D C.

African-American News&Issues believes that Pastor MAN SON’s life was well-lived, and his existence made all of our live ‘s better as a good father, good husband and good shepherd.