Shirley R. Johnson died on January 11, 2013 in Oberlin. Shirley was a passionate and dedicated advocate for civil liberties in Ohio during her lifetime. In 1977, she was honored as a “founding mother of the ACLU of Ohio” in the early 1950s. She also was a founder of the Yellow Springs (1948) and Oberlin (1951) ACLU chapters.
A “natural born civil libertarian,” Shirley cited growing up in a middle-class family during the Great Depression and seeing the unfair treatment of Jews and African Americans in the 1930s and 1940s as fueling her activism.
A tireless advocate for open records and open government, Shirley kept local officials on their toes; the newly elected quickly learned she would be watching. Up until her health began to fail, about six months prior to her death, she continued to attend city council and school board meetings — at age 95.
Shirley believed in protecting First Amendment rights with courage and vigor. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall establish no religion…” To Shirley, a Constitutional originalist, “no religion” meant just that. She was a staunch defender of public, secular education and came to the defense of separation of church and state in hundreds of situations.
Shirley was always a leader in supporting litigation to protect the rights of all speakers, even those who espoused views contrary to her own. She bravely led the affiliate as it gained a national reputation for its defense of First Amendment freedoms.
Shirley was known for her wit and intelligence. Her contributions to the defense of civil liberties in Ohio were unparalleled and will be greatly missed by the ACLU of Ohio and the activist community.
- Read this article in the Elyria Chronicle Telegram. It is fitting that many government officials who Shirley was hardest on, also mourn her loss.
- Listen to an oral history interview with Shirley conducted in 2011.
- Read the Oberlin News Tribune obituary here.
- Read a resolution passed by the ACLU of Ohio Board of Directors at their February 2, 2013 meeting in tribute to Shirley R. Johnson.
To join us in memorializing Shirley R. Johnson by making a gift to the ACLU of Ohio Foundation, please click here.