Mabel Lee Johnson, 98, passed away on January 22, 2019

Mabel Lee Johnson, 98, went to be with her Lord on Tuesday, January 22, 2019, at her home in Benton Harbor. A Celebration of Life service will be held at 12:00 PM EST. Saturday, February 2, 2019, at Unity Bible Baptist, 2950 Empire, Benton Harbor MI, officiated by Pastor Kirby Phillips Sr. Burial will follow at Crystal Spring Cemetery.  Visitation will be held Friday from 4:00 PM until 7:30 PM with a time of sharing at 7:30 PM at Starks & Menchinger Chapel, 2650 Niles Road, St. Joseph. Friends may also attend additional viewing on Saturday from 11:00 AM until 12:00 PM at the church. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Readiness Center, PO Box 1352 Benton Harbor, MI 49022 or Church Women United, Area V, 8000 Warren Wood Road #79, Three Oaks, MI 49127 Friends wishing to leave a message may do so at


Mabel Lee Johnson was born to Hosie and Jannie Lee on February 13, 1920, in an area known as “Dark Corner” in Cotton Plant, Arkansas.  She was the ninth of ten children.  She completed her elementary school education in a segregated local schoolhouse, and her middle school years were completed at Brinkley Academy — a church-community supported school for girls in Brinkley, Arkansas. She attended high school at Arkansas Baptist College Department of High School, finishing as class valedictorian and ensuring her the opportunity to attend college.  She extended her educational pursuits and completed two years at Arkansas Baptist College, with honors.  She met a very nice young man and accepted, at God’s direction, of course, the marriage proposal of the Rev. Thomas Paul Johnson and joined the ministry of “the Pastor’s Wife”— with the stipulation that he would not hinder her desire to be the first of her siblings to complete college.  On August 23, 1942, they married and went on to share 60 years of married life “together, as one.”  She worked as a teacher during the winters and became the student in the summers, graduating from Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical & Normal College—now known as the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff—in 1949 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education.  She earned hours in the Master’s programs at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Indiana University, Calumet.


By her husband’s side, she served as First Lady to five different congregations, four in Arkansas: Mt. Tabor Baptist Church, Fordyce; First Baptist Church, Smackover; Shiloh Baptist Church, Camden; and, First Baptist Church, El Dorado.  From 1963 – 1999, they served at Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Gary, Indiana where she continued her ministry as a help-meet to her husband and the epitome of a godly First Lady—quick to acknowledge her husband’s headship and help others understand the anatomy of the family, as “the head does not turn without support of the neck.” She was also quick to acknowledge her gratefulness to God for always providing a teaching position wherever her husband had been led to minister.  She counted it a blessing and privilege to have taught in the classroom for 21 years in Arkansas and 24 years in Indiana. She impacted the lives of students and parents at seven different elementary schools during her career, teaching grades 1 through 8, with a concentration on the primary grades. She even had the experience of instructing in a one-room schoolhouse, providing lessons for various grade levels at once. When her husband retired in 1999, they relocated to Benton Harbor, Michigan to be close to their daughter and her family.


She would tell you she loved teaching and traveling, and that working with children was wonderful.  This past September—at the age of 98—she traveled to Alaska, completing the quest she began with her husband of visiting all 50 states in the Union. In 1955, she experienced a “special joy of her life, seeing God’s perfect creation” when she and her husband toured the Holy Land.  She was also blessed to visit points of interests around the globe in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe, Central America, and North Africa.


At the age of 7, on the back porch of her home in Cotton Plant, she accepted the invitation of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to salvation and wanted to rush straight to church to tell all of the people what had happened. Life for her was never the same. With a life surrendered and committed to Christ, she was blessed in her walk and ministry that focused on service to others.


For decades, she served in various positions in the State and National Baptist Conventions, where she met and engaged with the later known Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she was associated with those involved with the desegregation work of the Little Rock 9 and the Arkansas NAACP, was instrumental in organization of the Ministerial Wives Coterie of Gary that collaborated on the integration of the membership of Church Women United in Gary, IN in the mid 1960’s.  She was a lifelong member of the NAACP, and upon her relocation to Benton Harbor, transferred her active participation to Church Women United – Area V, and also began volunteering at the Readiness Center, a commitment which continued through December 2018.


She cherished motherhood as a blessing after believing that after 15 years it was just not to be. She later had the blessing of becoming a proud grandmother; and this year, she welcomed her great-grandson to the world and was present at his birth, first Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s celebrations.

She described herself as a lover of people and was blessed to have touched hundreds of lives and been touched by each one of them.


With cherished memories and continuing her legacy, she is survived by her daughter, The Honorable Judge Mabel Johnson Mayfield; Son-in–law, Attorney John R. Mayfield Jr.; granddaughter, Austyn Ellese Mayfield and her husband, grandson-in–law, Dr. Flavian D. Brown; great-grandson, Lennox Aurélien Brown; Co-mother-in-law and adopted sister, Cora Bernice Mayfield; a host of nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews, and great-great nieces and great-great nephews; cousins; those who became just like sons and daughters; and many beloved friends and fellow laborers.


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