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Breaking Barriers: Velma Jackson-Johnson's legacy

A wife, mother and humanitarian, Velma became then congressman, George H.W. Bush's secretary, making her the first African-American to hold that position.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The George H.W. Bush Library and Museum celebrated a special life on Wednesday morning.

TSU graduate and Dallas native, Velma Jackson-Johnson was a dedicated wife, mother, humanitarian and church member. 

Her family would tell you she was "friends with everyone and loved everyone."

In her younger years, she enjoyed being a wife and mother but wanted to keep moving. 

“She didn’t want to be a stay at home mom. She wanted to go out and learn. She had the ability and the drive to learn. She went out and got a job and just so happened to be one of the greatest presidents she got a job with,” said Charlotte Griffith, her daughter.

Soon after returning to school and becoming a legal secretary in the late 60's, Velma became then congressman George H.W Bush’s secretary, making her the first African American to hold that position for a member of congress. 

Credit: KAGS

Charlotte said “she enjoyed that position... he was a funny guy he would tell jokes to break the ice... and that’s why he was a pleasure to work for you know, it wasn’t a stressful moment for her.”

Her husband Jesse Johnson, Jr. worked for Bush’s congressional campaign and helped her get the job.

“She always talked about uh what I call her ‘boss’ ... she had a great relationship with him... but had a better relationship with his wife. Her and Barbara always had parties and things like that together,” he said.

Credit: Charlotte Griffith

And after three and a half years, Bush moved to Washington, and Velma decided to stay home in Texas. 

“But she wanted to see what else it was she could do... and then she landed another position at the U.S. attorney’s office... and then she started working for the Harris County Health Department,” Charlotte said.

When it came time to retire for “real,” she wrote six books and started a party planning company. 

Even after passing away in 2017, Velma's inspirational journey and legacy continue to live on.