COVINGTON, Ga. — The Newton County Judicial Center closed for a few hours Friday, Feb. 5, so county and judicial officials could honor and formally rename it for one of its longtime occupants.
The judicial center in downtown Covington was renamed for the late Superior Court Judge Horace J. Johnson Jr. during a ceremony featuring his family, friends and community members Friday.
Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton, Alcovy Judicial Circuit Chief Judge John M. Ott, and Johnson’s wife Michelle and mother Lottie were among the speakers during the ceremony in the building a block off the Covington Square at 1132 Usher St.
During the first part held inside the building, Melton said Johnson “made everyone feel like they were his closest friend.”
He said his “hope and prayer” was that in “ways that are expected and ways that are unexpected” those who walk into the Horace J. Johnson Jr. Judicial Center will emerge feeling transformed into better people.
“(My hope is) that this won’t just be a hall of justice (but) that this will be a hall of transformation, a hall of hope, a hall of healing, a hall of purpose, a hall of vision, a hall of family,” Melton said.
Johnson’s wife, Michelle, said he loved his family and community, and loved representing Newton County.
She said he also loved working in areas of the community like Washington Street Community Center, the Boys & Girls Club and the Kiwanis Club, and Oxford College.
Mrs. Johnson asked the community to send her stories about her husband at email@example.com.
The event then moved outdoors for the unveiling of the new name in gold letters above the main entrance.
The Rev. Eric Lee, who was Johnson’s pastor at Springfield Baptist Church, closed the event with words and a prayer.
“(The name) Horace J. Johnson Jr. is now permanently enshrined as a contributor to American history on this, the bicentennial observation of the founding of Newton County,” Lee said.
The ceremony was livestreamed into other courtrooms and online in a manner similar to a memorial service for Johnson following his death July 1, 2020.
Johnson, a Newton County native, served as a Superior Court judge in his home county for 18 years. The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted six days later to name the judicial center for him.
Johnson grew up in the Sand Hill community of Newton County, attended Washington Street School and was among the first Black students to integrate Ficquett Elementary School.
He graduated from Emory University after attending Emory’s Oxford College, and earned his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Georgia Law School.
Gov. Roy Barnes appointed Johnson as Newton County’s first Black Superior Court judge in 2002.
Johnson considered being a candidate for a Georgia Supreme Court seat in early 2020 but chose to run for reelection to a new Superior Court term.
He won reelection without opposition a few weeks before his death, which came after he was diagnosed with COVID-19.