William Malone Johnson was a prominent lawyer, educator and church worker in the early 1900s in Hall County.
He was the first principal of the renowned Chattahoochee High School at Clermont, which produced numerous local educators as well as other prominent citizens of the area. In addition, he served as principal of Gainesville High School and superintendent of Hall County schools at different times. His own education came at Hiawassee High School and Mercer University.
Johnson became a prominent Hall County lawyer, deacon and teacher trainer at First Baptist Church and was active in numerous civic organizations.
He died of pneumonia at age 43 at his home on Prior Street in Gainesville Oct. 25, 1918, and is buried in Alta Vista Cemetery.
As well known and respected as he was locally, Johnson and his wife, Willie Estelle Bolding Johnson, had a son and grandson who became nationally famous.
Malcolm Malone Johnson was only 13 years old when his father died; thus, W.M. Johnson never got to see his son earn fame as a journalist. Malcolm, born in Clermont in 1904, was known locally as “Mike.” He graduated in 1922 from Gainesville High School, where he got his first taste of journalism as editor of the school newspaper.
Malcolm went on to become editor of Mercer University’s school paper, also working as a reporter for the Macon Telegraph. On the Telegraph, he wrote a series of articles on the Ku Klux Klan in Toombs County that attracted national attention and threats against his life.
That led to a job on the New York Sun and eventually as its Pacific Theater correspondent during World War II. His reporting on the war gained him further acclaim, concluding with coverage of the Japanese surrender aboard the U.S. Ship Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
Returning to New York, his work on waterfront crime in the city won him the 1948 Pulitzer Prize. The series and a later book became the basis for the movie, “On the Waterfront,” starring Marlon Brando.
Malcolm Johnson’s son, Haynes, born in 1931 in New York City, also became a noted journalist. He held various positions on several newspapers in the Washington, D.C., area and on the Washington Post won the 1966 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of civil rights unrest in Selma, Ala. Thus, it was the first time in history that a father, Malcolm “Mike” Johnson, and a son, Haynes Bonner Johnson, had won Pulitzer Prizes.
Haynes Johnson also wrote numerous books, five of them best sellers, and he has been a regular on television news panels, most notably “Meet the Press.”
His grandfather and Malcolm Johnson’s father, William Malone Johnson, is said to have suggested the name for Clermont, which originally was called “Dip.” William Malone Johnson’s wife, Willie Estelle, also was a teacher and despite losing her husband in the prime of his life, managed to send all six of their children to college.
Willie Estelle Bolding Johnson was the daughter of a prominent judge at the time, W.E. Bolding, and his wife. Ironically, on the same day her husband’s obituary appeared in the local paper, Oct. 30, 1918, there was an announcement that her brother, Paul Egbert Bolding, a U.S. Marine, had died of wounds during battle in France. He was one of the first casualties from Hall County during World War I, and the Paul E. Bolding Post 7 American Legion is named in his honor.
Hall County has ties to at least two other Pulitzer Prize winners. Michel (Mike) duCille began his journalism career on The Times while a junior at Gainesville High School. At the time his father, Frank duCille, was an education reporter for The Times.
After college, Mike became a photographer for the Miami Herald. He won a Pulitzer in 1985 for his photos of a volcano eruption in Colombia, then won a second one for a series on cocaine addicts in Miami. He is now picture editor of the Washington Post.
Deborah Blum also started her career on The Times in the 1970s. She won a 1992 Pulitzer for a series of articles in the Sacramento Bee on primate research, which led to her book, “The Monkey Wars.” She has become a renowned science writer and is working on her sixth book.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville 30501. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.