Honoring the Life and Accomplishments of Minerva Johnicanby Representative Steve Cohen
Posted on 2013-03-15
in the house of representatives
Friday, March 15, 2013
Mr. COHEN. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor a champion for the
rights of women, a leader in her community and a stalwart for Civil
Rights, Minerva Johnican, who passed away in her hometown of Memphis,
Tennessee. I was proud to call her my friend and she will be greatly
missed throughout the City of Memphis.
Minerva was born in Memphis on November 16, 1938 and was the sixth of seven children to John Bruce and Annie B. Johnican. She attended Hamilton Elementary and High School and began her college studies at Central State College in Ohio before graduating from Tennessee State University in 1960.
After graduating from college, Minerva earned her certificate in library science from the University of Memphis in 1965. She served in the Memphis City Schools system as a teacher and librarian for a total of 18 years, and later, she became the head librarian at Colonial Elementary School. She was always active in politics. However, her interest crystallized in 1967 when she was driving home from school and heard on the radio that a group of ministers were maced while marching for the rights of sanitation workers in downtown Memphis. From this experience, she became an instrumental member of Citizens on the Move for Equality, which advocated for higher wages for sanitation workers. In 1971, she founded the Inner City Voter Education Committee that helped inner-city 18-year-olds register to vote. During this time, she also founded the Volunteer Women's Round Table, which was a coalition of women from different racial backgrounds who worked to support women in the Democratic Party. Additionally, in a sign of her future political aspirations, Minerva worked on Shirley Chisholm's presidential campaign.
Over the next 15 years, Minerva's political accomplishments broke several glass ceilings for African-Americans and women. In 1975, Minerva became the first woman to serve on the Shelby County Quarterly Court, now called the Shelby County Commission, and held this seat for two four-year terms. I was honored to work with her on the Board of Commissioners and one of our proudest achievements was establishing the MED Hospital when others wanted a smaller hospital. In 1983, she became the first African-American elected to represent an at-large district on the Memphis City Council. As a City Councilwoman, she founded the Building Better Bridges for Memphis Task Force, which encouraged African-Americans and Caucasians in Memphis to work together on community problems. In 1987, Minerva came in second in a six-way race for city mayor. Not to be discouraged from public office, in 1990, she became the first African-American and the first woman to be elected Shelby County Criminal Court Clerk. During her time as County Clerk, she automated the Clerk's office and implemented computers to maintain records, making it easier and more efficient to serve the needs of Memphians and staff. Her vision for improving the County Clerk's Office earned three national awards.
After leaving office in 1994, Minerva worked as a managing loan officer at Mid-America Mortgage and transferred her skills into opening up her own company, OMO Mortgage Financial Services. Although she no longer served in a public office, her passion for public service and community involvement continued. She was a vital member and supporter of my campaigns in 2006 and 2008 and she served as Co-Campaign Manager for Herman Morris's mayoral run. Minerva also served on the board of directors for the Mid-South Muscular Dystrophy Association, Mid-South Chapter of the ACLU, NAACP, and numerous other organizations.
Throughout her public and private sector work, Minerva received countless recognition for her diligence and commitment to the city of Memphis. The Women's Foundation for a Greater Memphis honored her with the Legends Award in 2009. In addition, she was awarded with the Distinguished Leadership Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, History Makers Award from the National Council of Negro Women, and the NAACP Life Membership.
Sadly, Minerva lost her battle with cancer on Friday, March 8, 2013 at 74 years of age. She will be remembered as a pioneer for her tireless public service at a time when women were not expected to take a leading role. Her dedication to improving her community is unparalleled. Minerva's passion led her to take risks during an era of heightened racial tensions and to encourage people from across racial lines to work together for the betterment of the city. Hers was a life well-lived. Thank you, Minerva, for coming our way.