In Memoriam: Willa Elaine Johnson, 1957-2022

Willa Johnson, a professor of sociology at the University of Mississippi, died on November 7. She was 65 years old.

Dr. Johnson taught at the University of Mississippi for 23 years. Collegaues remember her as a “renaissance woman” who was an expert in many disciplines, fluent in multiple languages, and an artist.

A graduate of Kean University in New Jersey, Dr. Johnson received a master of divinity degree in biblical history from Boston University. At Vanderbilt University, she became the second Black woman in the U.S. to earn a doctorate in Hebrew Bible. Dr. Johnson was a postdoctoral research fellow at the International Institute for Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem and the Cummings Foundation Fellow at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Johnson was the first Black woman to rise from adjunct instructor to full professor in the history of the university. Dr. Johnson was a Hebrew Bible scholar who also studied issues of the Holocaust and the contemporary politics of race and ethnicity. She taught courses centered on subjects such as the sociology of disability, genocide and women, and the social context of Holocaust art. She was the author of Through an Artist’s Eyes: The Dehumanization and Racialization of Jews and Political Dissidents During the Third Reich (Routledge, 2021)

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