Since his death Wednesday, July 1, 2020, former Alcovy Superior Court Judge Horace J. Johnson Jr. has been described as a man who was compassionate, intelligent and special.
A trailblazer, Johnson grew up in the Sand Hill community and was a graduate of Newton County High School, part of the first integrated class to go through the local schools. He graduated from Oxford College of Emory University, then earned a degree from the Goizueta Business School at Emory in Atlanta.
Johnson was appointed to the Superior Court bench in 2002 by Gov. Roy Barnes, making him the first Black Superior Court judge in the circuit covering Newton and Walton counties.
He was elected without opposition to full terms four times since his appointment and planned to run for an open seat on the state Supreme Court this year, before an early retirement meant the seat went to an appointment by the governor. Johnson then ran for reelection and won a fifth full term in June 2020, but was never sworn in.
Johnson was beloved by his community and acclaimed by his peers.
In 2011, Johnson received the Clarence Cooper Legacy Award from the Gate City Bar Association and was appointed to the Accountability Court Funding Committee by the state Supreme Court chief justice in 2012.
He is a past president of the Council of Superior Court Judges of Georgia (2016-17) and had served on the Judicial Council of Georgia. He was a member of the Georgia Accountability Courts Funding; the Access, Fairness, Public Trust and Confidence; and the Judicial Council Domestic Violence committees.
Locally, Johnson was a past president of the Kiwanis Club in Covington and had served on the board of directors of the Washington Street Community Center. He and his wife, Michelle, were 2002 graduates of Leadership Georgia, and Horace Johnson served as the 2009 president of the organization. Leadership Georgia presented him with the Frederick B. Kerr Service Award, for “enthusiastic and active support,” in 2018.
He served on the Board of Counselors at Oxford College since 1992 and was chosen to speak at commencement this year, although the event was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Johnson was a founding board member of Newton Mentoring Inc. and the Arts Association in Newton County board of directors and was on the first advisory board for the Boys & Girls Club in Newton County. He served for several years as a board member of the Covington Division of United Bank.
He opened a parental accountability court in 2013 in Newton County and took the model to Walton County one year later. He also opened a treatment court for veterans in 2016.
To honor the late judge, Newton County commissioners voted to rename the county’s judicial center, located at 1132 Usher St. in Covington, the “Judge Horace J. Johnson Jr. Judicial Center” in early February 2021. At Oxford College, a scholarship fund was started in Johnson’s memory to provide need-based scholarships to prospective students, and in October 2021, the historic Language Hall was renamed in Johnson’s honor.
Alumnus Keith Burns, who was Johnson’s fraternity brother, called the Johnson a “friend, … brother and a personal hero who epitomized servant leadership.”
“He was also a mentor, role model and active participant in the success of hundreds of Emory and Oxford College students for more than three decades,” he added.
“He was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things for this community,” said Covington Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams, who grew up with Johnson.
Johnson, age 61 at the time of his death, is survived by his wife, Michelle; two sons, James and Bryant; and his mother, Lottie B. Johnson.