Our dear friend Alfred Johnson passed away peacefully on January 1, 2020 after a long, hard battle with cancer.
Al was born and raised in the projects in Quincy, son of a Kentucky Coal Miner. He is survived by his wife Cindy. His siblings are gone and he was the last standing member of his family.
He was drafted into the U.S. Army, and in 1969, after receiving orders to go to Vietnam, he was arrested outside of Fort Devens in uniform protesting the Vietnam War with a group of Quakers and war resisters. He refused to go to war in Vietnam. He considered himself a Conscientous Objector but the army didn’t agree and he spent a year in military prison, separated from others and in solitary most of the time so that he would not influence the other G.I.s
Because of support and legal advocacy from the Quakers, he was discharged from the army in 1971 with an honorable discharge.
Because of the help and support he got, he had a strong commitment to “pay it forward” and became involved in many social justice, anti war causes. As a young man, he was passionately involved with Bobby Kennedy’s presidential bid and worked with the Black Panthers in Oakland, California. He was especially motivated to try to bring attention and justice to Reality Winner and Chelsea Manning, two whistlebowers who are in prison. He worked tirelessly on these campaigns for years.
Al was a math teacher at Madison Park H.S. in Boston. The head master there thought very highly of Al because he successfully tutored many students so they could pass the MCAS exam, when previously they had failed it, sometimes multiple times. While still teaching, Al attended Law School and passed the Bar Exam. He worked as an attorney often doing pro bono work for social justice causes.
In 2009 he became a member of the Smedley Butler Brigade, which is Boston’s chapter of Veterans for Peace. For years he was co-coordinator of VFP.
We can’t list, nor do we know all the many things Al has done over the years. Some of them are: He was involved with Occupy Boston and along with VFP members, stood between the protestors and the police when they raided the camp. He could be seen at the Dorchester People for Peace Standouts for Black Lives Matter. He worked with BLM Boston and Cambridge. He was active in the Poor Peoples’ Campaign, March for our Lives, the Women’s March, Families Belong Together.
On many events over the past few years he was helping lead the peacekeeping missions to protect protesters and allow organizers to get out their message. In his 70’s he would never hesitate to put his body between a counter protester and a protester.
He showed up over and over. To quote Al, “always move towards the danger, never away from it.
What few people knew about Al is that he was also an artist. He recently started drawing and painting again, which he had not done since his high school days. Everywhere he went, he would have a pencil and sketchpad in his pocket to use if he had any spare time. In the past couple of years, Al produced many lovely paintings.
On Tuesday, New Year’s Eve, Al was in the hospital and had been moved to the ICU because of complications with his cancer He was in good spirits was hopeful and conversing with his wife Cindy, and good friend and VFP member Pat Scanlon most of the day. Pat reports: “Of course much of the conversation was about politics and our new project, ‘Class of 69’. He couldn't wait to get back out and work on the things he cared about.”
Class of 69 is a documentary in the works that has been a recent project initiated by Al and Pat. The film is interviews with Al and four Vietnam Veterans who were there in 1969. All five vets became anti-war activists.
Tuesday afternoon Al was put on dialysis with the hope and expectation by all that, his condition would improve. Early Wednesday morning his wife received a call that Al had taken a turn for the worse. During the day on Wednesday different friends came to visit. At the time of Al's passing he was surrounded by friends and loved ones. Al's wife of forty years Cindy was at his side along with her sister Linda. Dan Luker and his wife Emmy Rainwalker and Pat Scanlon were there all day. There were other dear friends who came to say goodbye, including Ryan Costa and his mother, Christine, who drove him to the hospital. Ryan had worked with Al on Bernie's campaign and talked about how profoundly Al had mentored and influenced him.
Al’s latest passion was getting Bernie elected. He drove to New Hampshire every weekend, canvassing, organizing and inspiring others, especially young people. All this time he was struggling with the discomforts of Stage 4 cancer. He helped organize a local Bernie affiliate group in Dorchester. He raised thousands of dollars for the campaign from his attorney friends on the golf course and had a mission to give every volunteer a Bernie T-shirt.
Again, from Pat: “Al was a very close and cherished friend and I will personally miss him terribly. For anyone who knew Al, his most favorite pastime was golf, and he was pretty good at it. He was also very competitive. He loved the game and got me playing with him regularly about three plus year's ago. We had a lot of fun on the courses we played and as you can imagine the conversation around the links was often about politics, VFP, the Smedleys and whatever the main issue of the day was. I will miss our outings, I will miss my friend and our conversations.”
The day before he went into the ICU, he made 200 phone calls for Bernie from his hospital bed.
For those who knew Al, he was so committed to the things he believed in and his energy seemed boundless. If Al was a participant in anything, he was all in. His determination and unwavering commitment to causes was contagious. He was so happy to hear, just before he died, how Bernie’s poll numbers were up.
Some people have asked about services and arrangements. One of Al's last wishes was that there be no services of any kind. He will be cremated and his ashes spread on the ocean in Maine where he and his wife Cindy liked to spend time.
He also wished that people who would like to do something in remembrance, send a donation to Veterans For Peace, Boston chapter. Below is how to do that.
In memory of Al Johnson please make your check out to Veterans For Peace, put “Al Johnson” in the notes, send to Pat Scanlon at:
Veterans for Peace
C/O Pat Scanlon
34 Washington Ave.
Andover, MA 01810
With great love and admiration to Al and all the people who were touched by his generosity and vision,