Nellie Stone Johnson had a long and distinguished record of public service in support of the advancement of minority concerns, the rights of workers, and equal opportunities for all people. Her life was a series of "firsts." As a leader of organized labor in the 1930s and 1940s, she was the first woman vice-president of the Minnesota Culinary Council and the first woman vice-president of Local 665 Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union. She was also the first black person elected to citywide office in Minneapolis when she won a seat on the Library Board in 1945.
Nellie Stone Johnson grew up with a strong tradition of support for education. Her mother and grandmother were teachers. Her father was a school board member in Dakota County. She left home at 17 to finish high school through the GED program at the University of Minnesota. After a number of years in the work force, Nellie continued her studies at the University of Wisconsin using the money she earned from trapping to finance her education there. Nellie's commitment to education continued through her work on the Minnesota Education Board. She also served on the Minnesota State University Board for eight years, and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees.
Nellie Stone Johnson was a life member of the NAACP and the National Coalition of Negro Women, a member of the National Coalition of Labor Women, the National League of Women Voters, the DFL Affirmative Action Committee and the DFL Feminist Caucus, the Democratic National Committee and a former board member of the Minnesota Urban League. She has received numerous awards, including the Urban League's Cecil E. Newman Humanitarian Award, Honorary Doctor of Letters - St. Cloud State University, Distinguished Minnesotan Award – Bemidji State University, and WCCO Good Neighbor Award.
Labor and Education
The Nellie Stone Johnson Scholarship Program provides financial assistance to racial minority union members and their families who wish to pursue an education at one of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. The scholarship program was established by the former Minnesota State University System in 1989, as a part of the universities' cultural diversity initiative. MSUSA assisted in the administration of the program from 1997 to 2006. The scholarship program currently operates as an independent entity.
The program honors Nellie Stone Johnson, a long-time member of the system's board. The endowment is a permanent reminder of Nellie's contributions to civil rights, human rights, and the rights of work force cultural diversity initiative focuses on the recruitment, retention and graduation of greater numbers of students of color. Evidence has shown that the success of minority students in completing college is in direct correlation to the financial assistance that is available. Scholarships also reduce students' dependence on loans and debt burden. The Nellie Stone Johnson Scholarship Program's scholarship monies come from private sources, including alumni, labor unions, company foundations, friends and other supporters.