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"Outside Agitator"
The Reverend Peter Johnson Story

Reverend Johnson's Personal Stories
Reverend Peter Johnson discusses Martin Luther King  Jr.'s athleticism

Reverend Peter Johnson & Don Robinson
Icons Around  the World Celebration at Chocolate Secrets
Dallas, Texas
February 6, 2022

Reverend Johnson's Personal Stories
Car ride with Andrew Young

Andrew Young  &  Dr. Martin Luther King  Jr.

Reverend Johnson's Personal Stories
The Day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Was Killed

Reverend Peter Johnson & Don Robinson
Icons Around  the World Celebration at Chocolate Secrets
Dallas, Texas
February 6, 2022

Reverend Johnson's Personal Stories
Movie Planned to Help Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Family

  Coretta Scott King & Andrew Young
April 9, 1968


18 Day Hunger Fast 

“Fast on City Hall Steps Receives Added Support,”

The first time the Dallas Morning News (DMN) covered Rev. Peter Johnson’s hunger fast.  This coverage began on March 10, 1971, even though Rev. Johnson had been on the hunger fast since the previous week.  DMN covered the event because Rev. Johnson got some support from mayoral candidate Albert Lipscomb, and his supporters.

About twenty-five people showed up to show their support for Rev. Johnson’s hunger fast.  Lipscomb announced that his run for mayor would come second to his efforts to attack hunger in Dallas.  Rev. Johnson began the hunger fast when the city refused to create a program to aggressively attack hunger in Dallas the previous week.

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 Dallas Morning News,  March 10, 1971

Main point of the article was the Rev. Johnson was getting support from students across the spectrum.  The first set of students supporting Rev. Johnson was theological students from Perkins Seminary.  The other group of student supporters was from Amelia Earhart Elementary School.  This group was made up of boys ages from seven or eight.  The students did have messages that they delivered.

Rev. Johnson did have other supporters there to magnify his message, however he was the only one on the hunger fast.  The article notes that he was making it by drinking juices.  Even though the juices helped it was not enough, and his health was beginning to be affected.


The article gives a brief overview of the attitude and events that had occurred since Rev. Johnson began his hunger fast.  The scene is set by describing that determination is in the air, yet on it has a picnic vibe to it.  Rev. Johnson remarked that he would stay at the Harwood street entrance to the Dallas City Hall until Christmas if needed.

His group is described as fans waiting on Super Bowl tickets until you see their signs.  Some signs were described as “In God We Trust, In Dallas We Starve”, “Hunger Retards Learning”, and “Let Them Eat Promises”.  It is noted that Rev. Johnson was skinny to begin with, and that he is losing strength.

Rev. Johnson does talk about how he has seen bigotry, racism, and ignorance from passerby’s during this hunger fast.  He also said that he would go in front of Dallas City Hall, next Monday, however does not know what he will say.

This is a Letter to the Editor, from a Dallas resident, named John Deschner.  Deschner admits that he does not know who Rev. Johnson is or what his program details.  He does believe that the media should help Rev. Johnson develop and tell his program details.

Deschner admits that his is secondary cause.  The primary cause he believes should be for Dallas to give help.  He believes it would be horrible for the message to be, from Dallas, how long can Rev. Johnson last?  He does not believe that Dallas should focus on Rev. Johnson himself, they should focus on his message of hunger.

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The article acknowledged that the hunger fast would last through the weekend because nothing had been done.  It was noted that Rev. Johnson was head of Operation Breadbasket.  Operation Breadbasket was a program run by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), yet the article fails to give detail about what the program entailed.


This article discusses how clergymen like Rev. W. Kenneth Pope, presiding bishop of the United Methodist Church in Dallas Ft. Worth, was part of a four person fast on the steps.  The three were Perkins School of Theology students named Troy Bell, Charles Ramberg, and Tom Jones. 


Bishop Pope said he was there as a person.  He also promised that the fifteen to twenty churches participating, in breadbasket programs, would get a ton of food a month.

Rev. Johnson confirmed that he would continue the hunger fast even though doctors had advised him to stop.  He promised that he would make it through, at least, next Monday when he was scheduled to appear before Dallas City Council.  SCLC was having an Operation Breadbasket rally that Saturday, at 4pm, on the Harwood street steps of Dallas City Hall.

Dallas City Council agreed to an anti-hunger movement called ‘Operation Assist’.  This movement allows Dallas not to set up its own department to address the hunger crisis.  Rev. O. H. Lackey of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance asked people to give their support to the program.

It has the combined efforts of the county commissioners, County Welfare Department, Community Council of Greater Dallas, and the alliance.  Dallas City Council did not specify announce how they would support the movement, it was enough to end the hunger fast of Rev. Johnson.


The mayor of Dallas was Erik Johnson, and SCLC Operation Breadbasket members gave him two loaves of bread, and some fish at the meeting.  They also asked him to feed the multitudes with that amount.  Mayor Johnson accepted the food from SCLC’s Romie Lilly, however he rejected the challenge.

City Attorney Alex Bickley recommended that the city does not give in Rev. Johnson’s demands.  Bickley stated that a local study by 1,400 churches is due May 1, and a federally funded study is due July 1.  Both studies are based on hunger, in Dallas.  Bickley believed that funding anything Rev. Johnson wanted would be duplicating future efforts.

Rev. Johnson attended the meeting Monday, however he had to be seated because of his condition.  The author did wonder how weak Rev. Johnson actually was.  Rev. Johnson did gain the support of the Black Lawyers Coalition of Dallas, St. Stephen United Methodist Church, Dallas Community Action, some members of the Perkins School of Theology community and some high school students.  Attorney Ed Polk of SCLC Operation Breadbasket stated that the studies did not have credibility.

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‘Operation Assist’ sets to provide emergency survival service, coordinate existing resources from some 121 welfare agencies in the county, provide information and referral, minimize red tape and evaluate, current agencies serving the poor.  Rev. Lackey added that black and brown churches in poverty areas would provide space, and affluent churches some food, staff, and financial assistance.  The distribution centers would be open from 6 to 9 pm Monday through Friday.

PETER JEROME JOHNSON born in 1945 in Plaquemine, Louisiana, is Dallas’ preeminent veteran of the Civil Rights Movement.

Reverend Peter Johnson began his Civil Rights activism before he was 18 and a student at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Johnson was a student organizer with the Congress of Racial Equality where he helped organize civil rights campaigns throughout the South. His motto was, “Have picket, will travel.”


Peter arrived in Dallas in 1969.  He was charged to launch the official screening of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s film, King: A Filmed Record Montgomery to Memphis, in which the proceeds would help "raise Dr King's babies" after Dr. King was killed. The historical impact of the screening was that out of 800 cities the documentary would be shown, Dallas was the only city that said "no!"


Peter remained in Dallas after he was approached by Fair Park Homeowners to assist them in their fight against the city to tear down their homes to build a parking lot around Fair Park. Johnson assisted the homeowners to receive fair market for their homes which was a major victory against the city.

Johnson still fights for Civil Rights, Voting Rights and an end to  discrimination in all its forms. His body bears the scars of years of activism in an environment hostile to equality. His heart reveals the love of a man who seeks justice every time for every human being.

Peter has been instrumental with changing the very fabric of Dallas by bringing attention to the at-large city council system; hunger and malnutrition; fair housing; policing; unfair hiring practices; and has led successful lawsuits against major corporations for unequal treatment to their employees. 

Johnson worked along side Civil Rights giants like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young, Rosa Parks, Jessie Jackson, Ralph Abernathy Sr., Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, Al Lipscomb, and so many others. He has spent his entire life fighting racism, injustice, homelessness and hunger.

Outside Aitator

Meet the Dallas civil rights activist whose work in Fair Park inspired the play 'Travisville'

KERA | By Jerome Weeks

Published December 15, 2022 at 5:00 AM CST


Rev. Peter Johnson of Dallas poses for a portrait in front of a poster of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his Oak Cliff office in Dallas.

Rev. Peter Johnson came to Dallas in 1969 to promote a film about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He stayed to fight for Black homeowners in Fair Park. The acclaimed play is in Dallas for the first time.


Explore more stories from Arts Access.

The Reverend Peter Johnson was only 23 when he came to Dallas in 1969, but he was already a civil rights veteran. He was a member of the SCLC, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where Johnson's colleagues and supervisors included Andrew Young and John L. Lewis.

The irony is that Johnson didn't come to Dallas to organize a movement. He came to raise money.

After Dr. King's murder in 1968, his widow Coretta and their children were left with very little. Hollywood supporters of King, including Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, developed a documentary, "King: A Filmed Record - Montgomery to Memphis," and planned to use it in some 800 screenings around the world to raise money for the family.

Johnson was ordered to Dallas to arrange the fundraiser.

"Seven hundred and ninety-nine cities around the world welcomed a movie on King's life," Johnson said. "There was only one city on earth that said, No."

"I took it personal," he said.

The actual answer from the Dallas leadership, according to Johnson, contained a racist slur about Dr. King.

Civil Rights Activist Peter Johnson On Coming To Dallas

Eventually, the screening in Dallas did take place on the appointed date — after some pressure from Hollywood producers and one wealthy Dallasite writing a couple of last-minute checks.

But the experience made Johnson determined to stay in Dallas "and teach this city a lesson" about its Black residents. While he was here, Johnson said, a number of Black Dallasites "would come to my hotel [room] and beg me for help."

King: A Filmed Record Montgomery to Memphis

This is the landmark documentary that chronicles the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, from Montgomery, Alabama, to Dr. King's  assassination in Memphis in 1968.

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Reverend Peter Johnson and Delores Johnson

Celebrating a wonderful marriage, two children and 7 grandchildren.

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Rejis Lamont Williams, Son

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Brandi TeArra  Johnson, Daughter

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Rev. Peter Jerome Johnson


Peter Jerome Johnson was born in 1945 in Plaquemine, Louisiana. The middle of five children, his mother, Evelyn, was a domestic and his father William, also known as “Big Bill”, was a lumber jack and president of the local NAACP. Peter’s grandfather had been active in civil rights issues back in the 1930s.

His foray into civil rights took place as a teenager when he convinced a hometown gang of young toughs, calling themselves the Trojans, to transform themselves into an NAACP youth chapter in which Peter served as president.  He attended schools in Plaquemine and decided to attend Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  By the time he reached Southern, he was almost a full-time civil rights worker. His motto was, “Have picket, will travel”.

His early career was spent with civil rights icon Dr. James Farmer and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Peter started going to jail in the Civil Rights movement at the age of 18. It was during this time, in 1963, that he helped organize the Louisiana delegation to the historic March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream Speech.”

After the March on Washington, Peter was involved in a major movement to establish Freedom Schools.   The schools were to teach people in the South how to pass the literacy exams so they could vote. This effort was a joint partnership between CORE, SCLC, SNCC and the NAACP.  It was during this time he also helped to organize and lead the Burgaloosa, Louisiana March to Baton Rouge which went through the heart of the Ku Klux Klan territory in Louisiana.   This was the bloodiest march Peter was ever involved.  It was a march against the violence, intimidation and brutality against Blacks.  The fact the protesters made it to the capital alive was a testament to their fortitude. This march gave rise to the Deacons of Defense who later had a movie and several books written about them.

In 1964 Peter received an invitation to study at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D. C.  This organization, which still exists, was a Think Tank on how to impact policy, how to influence governmental policy and a deeper understanding of government and politics.  Peter was working with the Southern Leadership Conference and CORE during this time.

During the mid-1960s Peter was involved in Voter Education and Registration in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida.  It was during this time he was also involved in the Citizenship Education Project headed by Andrew Young, Septima Clark and Dorothy Cotton.  This project sent Peter into the rural areas of southern states providing Voter Education.


Peter became involved in the Anti-War Movement against the Vietnam War in the Mid-1960s.  He helped to organize protests and marches on Washington, D. C. involving thousands of Anti-War protesters. He assisted in moratoriums and laws being passed in Washington directly connected to the War.   He was also involved in the Garbage Strike in Memphis, Tennessee as he assisted Dr. King with the Poor People’s Campaign.  Peter was in New York City preparing to speak in Harlem about the Poor People’s Movement when he received word that his mentor and leader Dr. King had been shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee.  That day was to change Peter’s life forever as he came face to face with the inhumane side of the movement.

After King’s death Peter was sent to the Carolina’s to help organize and unionize the Black Garment Workers.  More than 5,000 women organized and formed the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.  After his work in the Carolina’s Peter was called back to Atlanta to begin working on the release of the movie on Dr. King’s Life titled, “Montgomery to Memphis”, which was financed and produced by Sydney Poitier, Harry Belafonte and Samuel Livingston.  It was his involvement with this movie that brought Peter to Dallas, Texas.

Peter arrived in Dallas in 1969 to organize the showing of the movie on Dr. King’s life.  He was immediately faced with the knowledge that out of 800 cities in which the movie was to premier around the world, that Dallas would be the only city to say ‘no’.   His persistence, previous skills with negotiating and seeking assistance outside of Dallas forced the city leaders to show the movie.  It was during this brief time in Dallas that he was approached by a small group of Black activists regarding the forced movement and relocation of property owned by Blacks around Fair Park.

Peter’s decision to remain in Dallas laid the foundation for a series of highly successful and historic events that occurred in the city over a 40 year period.  He was instrumental in the Fair Park Home Owners forced relocation due to imminent domain for parking space around Fair Park and the Cotton Bowl which was at that the time, the home of the Dallas Cowboys.  He was able to assist the residents in organizing and they were successful in receiving more money for their property and relocation.

In 1970, Peter next set his sights on the giant grocer Safeway.  The largest grocery store chain in the Southwest had a reputation for accepting Black dollars, but not hiring Blacks at their stores as cashiers and managers.   He organized a boycott of the chain which lasted for more than a year and resulted in the chain’s executives agreeing to a covenant in which Blacks would be hired in positions in the front of the door, and not just the back.

Peter then organized and led a Campaign Against Hunger and Malnutrition.  He felt it was appalling that a city as large as Dallas had no place for emergency food for the homeless, dispossessed and poor.   It was during this campaign that he went on an 18-day hunger strike on the steps of Dallas City Hall.  His hunger strike resulted in the Dallas City Council establishing a program called Operation Assist which provided monies to establish an emergency food program.  The other result was the establishment of the Department of Human Resources which works with Welfare recipients and poor working families.


Peter next focused his attention on politics.  Dallas was originally an at-large, city-wide system.  He felt this was unfair to Black and Hispanics.  He pushed for the formation of single-member districts.  He worked with a group of activists to file a federal lawsuit against the City of Dallas.  The result of the lawsuit and protests was the ‘8-3-1’ system with eight city council members being voted in single member districts, three at large and the mayor city wide.  Several lawsuits later this system would evolve into the current ’14-1’ system in which the mayor is the only position elected city wide.  This also resulted in paid city council members, which did not exist in Dallas.

Peter left Dallas in the early 70s to go back to Atlanta and work in SCLC’s national office at the request of the SCLC president Dr. Ralph Abernathy.  Peter worked as a special aid to Dr. Abernathy as SCLC took on the fight on the War in Vietnam; work with Labor unions in support of national teachers’ and nurses’ strikes; the push to establish a national holiday in honor of Dr. King; national voter registration drives; political education; and the national housing movement and fight for decent housing.

Peter returned to Dallas in 1974, at the request of the Texas SCLC Chapter, to assist in protesting the unfair lending practices of banks in Dallas.   It was during this time he met Dolores Barton who was to later become his wife.  Peter decided to remain in Dallas after he and Dolores were married by Dr. Ralph Abernathy at West Hunter Street Baptist Church in Atlanta, Texas.

On his return to Dallas in 1976 Peter accepted the role as Administrator of the Forest Avenue Hospital, the only Black-owned hospital in Dallas.  At this time he took a leave of absence from SCLC to devote full time to this new role.  He served in this capacity for two years.  The voice deep inside his heart was growing louder and louder and Peter stepped back into that familiar old suit of Civil and Human Rights. In more recent years Peter has tackled the issue of homelessness, gun violence, poverty “not being a condition, but a disease”; establishing community gardens in the inner city, and the economics of ‘teaching a man to fish.’

For more than 20 years he has had the most successful and organized gun buy programs in the country.  His gun buy back initiative has been replicated in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, New York City and other major U. S. cities. He has also been on the forefront of the immigration issue assisting to organize one of the largest mass gatherings of Hispanics in the country when more than 500,000 Hispanics converged on Dallas for a peaceful rally in support of immigration laws. Peter is also currently working with the governments of Sierra Leone, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to assist with providing much needed medical supplies at each of those countries fight serious health conditions and to identify and assist with human rights atrocities in the Congo.

Peter is currently the founder of the Peter Johnson Institute on Nonviolence and is working on an autobiography and documentary titled, “Outside Agitator”. He is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of North Texas – Dallas teaching courses on “A Personal Perspective of the Civil Rights Movement” and “The Dallas, Texas Social Justice Movements: 1968-2018”. He and his wife Dolores have two children and six grandchildren.

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