Dear UW Law Community:

It is with great sadness that I announce the death of UW alumnus The Honorable Charles V. Johnson, JD ’57, a retired King County Superior Court judge and former president of the Seattle chapter of the NAACP, on Dec. 29, 2020. He was 92.

Judge Johnson was a longtime and dedicated mentor to UW Law students and gave generously to student scholarships.

When Judge Johnson attended law school, he was one of only a handful of African American graduate students at UW at that time. After law school, he became a civil rights pioneer in Seattle. He was well known for his work to ensure African Americans could be hired in department stores and supermarkets and he was instrumental in the passage of the open-housing ordinance that opened Seattle neighborhoods to people of color.

He had a lengthy judicial career on the King County Superior Court bench, where he served as one of the only Black judges and had a huge impact on lawyers and participants in his courtroom. He spent several rotations in juvenile court, and it was clear that he cared for the young people who appeared before him.

I met Judge Johnson in my first few weeks in Seattle. I was deeply impressed with his accomplishments and his continuing commitments to others. In particular, he stressed that as dean it would be crucial to ensure UW law dedicated resources to meeting the legal needs of underserved communities.

His legal support is considered by many to have been the backbone of the civil rights movement in King County. I invite you to learn more about Judge Johnson’s legacy and impact at the UW’s Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project.

The NAACP will host a tribute to Judge Johnson’s life and legacy during a livestream presentation at 3 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15. In preparation for that event, the organization is gathering testimonies from those whose lives, careers and communities have been positively impacted by Judge Johnson. Here’s how you can participate:

  • In person: Record your testimony on the Witness Stand next to the Judge’s Bench at the NAACP Alaska Oregon Washington State Area Conference. At your earliest convenience, please email your availability for Jan. 4-8 between 10 a.m. and  6 p.m. to schedule your recording time. Recording will follow social distancing guidelines. The address is 10806 12th Ave SW, Seattle, WA, 98146.
  • Remotely: Please record a two-minute video testimony and either:

Please be sure to shoot your video in landscape view (horizontal) and have low to no background noise. Have good lighting (facing forward on your face). Position your camera as close to eye level as possible so that you’re not awkwardly looking down.

Video submissions cannot be accepted after Jan. 10.

For more information, please contact Gerald Hankerson at and Darrell Powell, who will be managing this project, at

Judge Johnson's family has requested that donations be made to the Loren Miller Bar Association to support the scholarship dinner in lieu of flowers. Please put "Donation for Judge Johnson" in the note line.

Please keep Judge Johnson’s family in your thoughts during this difficult time.


Mario L. Barnes
Toni Rembe Dean and Professor of Law
UW School of Law