U.S. Army Base Renamed to Honor Black World War I Hero

Published: 22 February 2024

By Brian Burnes
via the FLATLAND (Kansas City Public Television 19) website 


Following Henry Johnson’s encounter with German soldiers in May 1918, the French government honored him with the Croix de Guerre, or war cross.

Kansas City Family Recalls Henry Johnson With Pride

What once was a Louisiana U.S. Army base named for a Confederate general today bears the name of a Black World War I U.S. Army private.

It’s a complicated story that took more than a century to unfold, and there’s a Kansas City connection.

“This was beyond anything we expected,” said Tara Johnson, daughter of the late Herman Johnson, a Kansas City businessman and civil rights leader.

Herman Johnson worked for years to see the man he believed to be his father, World War I war hero Henry Johnson, receive formal acknowledgment for his fierce courage and resolve.

“Granddad’s honors have exceeded what we had hoped when our journey started,” Tara Johnson said.

Last summer Tara Johnson attended the renaming ceremonies in Louisiana. The rituals were part of the congressionally mandated directive, approved after the protests generated by the 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, to remove the names of Confederate figures from American military installations.

In 2023 Army officials renamed nine bases across the South, including the Louisiana base established in 1941 for Confederate Gen. Leonidas Polk.

“I went out early to hear the last gun salute under its previous name and later I heard the first gun salute after it became Fort Johnson,” Tara Johnson said of the Louisiana ceremony.

“It was very emotional, and very military.”

In 1918 Henry Johnson became one of the first American soldiers to receive the Croix de Guerre, or war cross, from the French government for his actions in fighting off a German raiding party and rescuing a comrade from being taken prisoner.

At the time Johnson, who grew up in Albany, New York, was serving in the 369th Infantry, an all-Black federalized New York National Guard unit otherwise known as the “Harlem Rattlers” or “Harlem Hellfighters,” which served under French command.

Johnson’s war cross included a gold palm leaf, representing the highest military decoration awarded by France.

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