How this aspect of his life can be reconciled with his continued profession as a Christadelphian I am still not sure. My guess is that the Christadelphian prohibition against voting and political involvement was not so well-enforced for those living on the Texas frontier, as it became later. I am not trying to excuse anyone; I am just trying to explain. I should add that there is some evidence that, on at least one occasion, brother Sam Johnson was disfellowshiped by other Christadelphians for his political activities, and then reinstated into fellowship a bit later, probably after the campaign and election were over.
Sam and Eliza had six daughters, who were all baptized and became practicing Christadelphians, including Jessie Johnson (later Jessie Hatcher), my grandmother. One of Sam’s sons, Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr., did not embrace the Truth but made politics practically a full-time career, served in the state legislature and in other public capacities. He campaigned publicly, and somewhat dangerously, against the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, and was responsible for the legislative bill that restored and preserved the Alamo as a state landmark.
Sam, Jr.’s son, Lyndon, was certainly influenced by early years around his Christadelphian grandparents and aunts and uncles, as they all attended Sunday school and other meetings. But a young Lyndon was obviously drawn to his father’s world of politics — more than he ever was to the Hope of Israel. There are some real indications, however, that certain aspects of Christadelphian teaching remained with him throughout his long political career, especially in his high regard for the Jews as the people of God, and in the newborn nation of Israel in the Middle East — and also in his vision of a “Great Society” of peace, prosperity and brotherhood for all, which in retrospect seems to have been drawn directly from the prophecies of Isaiah as read and interpreted by Christadelphians.
The Trail Drivers of Texas, no longer in print, contains an article about Samuel Ealy Johnson, Sr., written by his daughter-in-law, Rebekah Baines Johnson (the mother of Lyndon). She was never a Christadelphian herself, but she did live in and among the Johnson family for many years. In this article she writes:
Sam Johnson was reared a Baptist… but later affiliated with the Christadelphians. He was a consistent and devout member of this church until his death from pneumonia, at Stonewall, Texas, on February 25, 1915.
Highly gregarious, he attended all the neighborly gatherings and met his friends with a handshake, friendly greetings and a resounding laugh. He seldom returned from these gatherings without accompanying guests, and was widely known for his hospitality and kind friendliness. A man of strong courage, deep convictions and a calm philosophy which allowed no worry, he lived serenely and quietly at his pleasant country home on the bank of the Pedernales River, from 1888 to 1915, almost thirty years. Prior to that he led a very active, energetic, often hazardous, existence. He was a tall, well-built, rangy man, six feet in height, with black wavy hair and blue eyes. His snowy beard and thick mane of white hair in his later years gave him a patriarchal appearance.
He loved to sit on the front porch of his farm home reading his Bible and the newspapers, and greeting the frequent visitors with a hearty invitation to get down and come right in for a good visit. Although he had a high temper, he was seldom seen in anger and never in his life used an oath. He had a very deep and abiding faith in the Christadelphian creed, and, when dying, fully conscious, spoke to his loved ones, assuring them of his complete readiness to meet his Maker and of his sustaining hope of eternal life. His death, as his life, was an inspiration to those who knew him.
I have often thought, as I considered this obituary, that there can scarcely be any better combination of reading materials, and any better way to spend one’s leisure time. Sam Johnson, my great-grandfather, spent his last years on his front porch, alternately reading his Bible and the latest news of the world, and pausing to visit with those who passed by on the road in front of his little house. How often did yesterday’s news explain the Bible? How often did the two- or three-thousand-year-old Bible explain yesterday’s news? For some one instructed in the true gospel, the two forms of reading would proceed in tandem, and a man might keep one eye on this world, while the other eye — the eye of faith — was firmly fixed on the world to come.
Note 1: There is more about my grandmother, Jessie Johnson Hatcher, and other members of the Johnson family, in my book On the Way, in the chapter entitled “Scenes in a Country Cemetery”, pages 215-219. On the Way may be ordered from The Christadelphian Tidings Publishing, http://www.tidings.org.
Note 2: Gregg Cantrell has a quite interesting discussion about how Sam Johnson, Sr., and his politics, as well as his Christadelphian religion, relate to the politics of his grandson, President Lyndon Johnson. This is entitled “Lyndon’s Granddaddy: Samuel Ealy Johnson, Sr., Texas Populism, and the Improbable Roots of American Liberalism”, Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 118, No. 2 (October 2014), pp. 132-156. Cantrell is Professor of Texas History at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.
To be continued.
This post is part of a series authored by brother George Booker. Click here to see all previous posts in the series.