Guela Gayton Johnson (she/her)

By Victor Lubwama

A drawing of three books in shades of pink and red.
“Librarian” by Anonymouse.

Guela Gayton Johnson was a remarkable African American woman who fearlessly fought for racial and social justice in Seattle. Born on February 19, 1925, she grew up in Seattle’s Central District, witnessing firsthand the deep-rooted racial inequalities that plagued the mid-20th century. With an unyielding determination and a heart full of compassion, Johnson became an unsung Shero of the Pacific Northwest, leaving an indelible mark on the Seattle community. In 1969, Johnson achieved a significant milestone in the African American community in Seattle as she graduated from the University of Washington with her Master of Library Science degree. She became the first professional librarian to head the UW’s School of Social Work library, a post she held until her retirement in 1992. Her degree provided her with a powerful tool to address the systemic injustices she encountered in the university and the community as well. Motivated by her own experiences of discrimination, Johnson dedicated herself to making a difference in the world. Johnson’s activism was driven by a profound desire to empower marginalized communities and challenge oppressive systems. In 1963, she became a founding member of the Central Area Civil Rights Committee, a group dedicated to addressing racial injustices in housing, education, and employment. Through grassroots organizing and relentless advocacy, Johnson rallied the community and pressured local authorities to confront the needs of Seattle’s African American population. An example of this was in 1965 when she led a powerful grassroots campaign to challenge discriminatory housing practices in Seattle.

One of Johnson’s most remarkable achievements was her instrumental role in establishing the Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP) in 1965. As the program’s first director, she poured her heart and soul into providing job training, affordable housing, and crucial resources to uplift low-income communities. Through CAMP, Johnson brought hope and opportunity to countless individuals and families, helping them overcome the economic disparities that had held them back for far too long. Johnson’s impact extended beyond her work with CAMP. She actively engaged with the broader community through various initiatives, leaving an indelible mark on the fabric of Seattle society. Johnson served as the president of the Seattle chapter of the National Urban Coalition, fearlessly advocating for urban policy reforms that addressed the specific needs of urban areas. Furthermore, her tireless efforts within the Seattle Public Schools system aimed to ensure equal access to quality education for all students.

Johnson’s influence was not confined to Seattle alone. Together with other passionate advocates, she co-founded the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations, fostering solidarity among community-based groups throughout the region. Through collective action, the federation amplified the voices of marginalized communities and fought for transformative change on a broader scale. Guela Gayton Johnson’s contributions hold immense historical, political, and social significance. Her tireless activism aligned with the prominent civil rights movements of her time, standing shoulder to shoulder with figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Johnson’s work underscored the vital role of grassroots organizing and community mobilization in dismantling oppressive systems and fostering social progress. Guela Gayton Johnson’s unwavering commitment to racial and social justice shaped the landscape of Seattle, leaving an enduring legacy of empowerment and change. Her remarkable journey, driven by compassion and fierce determination, continues to inspire generations of activists. Johnson’s life exemplifies the power of grassroots movements to create transformative social progress, urging us all to take up the mantle of change.


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Badass Womxn and Enbies in the Pacific Northwest Volume 2 Copyright © 2023 by Badass Zine Machine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.