Originally created 02/29/04

Activist works to improve community's quality of life



Mary Johnson has been down this path before.

The lifelong Columbia County resident helped lead a push in the late 1990s to clean up her King Villa neighborhood off Washington Road, soliciting help from county officials and sheriff's deputies to remove litter, erect street lights and increase police patrols.

After much effort, the area around Johnson Drive improved for several years. But as things got better, attention started waning. The neighborhood association stopped meeting, and the organized clean-up dropped off.

Now, with familiar problems creeping back in, Mrs. Johnson, 70, is ready to embark on another campaign to improve the quality-of-life on the streets near Tubman Road.

"We started back with having problems again," said Mrs. Johnson, who along with other residents has begun meeting again with representatives from the Columbia County Sheriff's Office. "We have too much traffic in here, there's a lot of speeding. So we're getting back to working on that now."

While she said deputies have continued patrols, she said she would like to see the reposting of speed limit and no parking signs that have fallen down or been stolen.

Mrs. Johnson grew up in the Appling area and moved to Johnson Drive nearly 50 years ago when she married her husband, George.

When she went to high school, she had to attend Lucy C. Laney High School in Augusta because there was no high school for black students in Columbia County.

Mrs. Johnson said that being a member of the generation that experienced desegregation and the civil rights movement has played a part in why she has so involved with her community.

"You had a lot of the bad things," she said. "It helped encourage me to want to do things, want to try to help and not sit around and wait for somebody else to do for you."

Mrs. Johnson first fell into the community activist role in the 1970s when she and her neighbors approached the county about paving the dirt road that lead to their homes from Washington Road.

"A long time ago, the neighborhood watch wasn't organized then," she said. "We just met as a group then and got the road in here paved."

The residents living there at the time voted to name the street after the Johnsons.

Now occupied with her role as matriarch over a family that includes five children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, Mrs. Johnson worked in the Columbia County school system once as a teacher's aide and later as lunchroom manager. She also worked in Augusta at the former S.H. Kress Co.'s warehouse filling orders and at Carole Fabrics sewing window drapery.

Instead of retiring quietly, Mrs. Johnson volunteers every Wednesday at St. Joseph Hospital's hospice; serves on an advisory board for the Sheriff's Office; volunteers at the Columbia County Cares food bank and is a member of Harlem's Relay for Life cancer research fund-raiser.

"I've got to do something," Mrs. Johnson said. "Age makes you think about needing to do something."

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 115 or vicky.eckenrode@augustachronicle.com.