Teaching in Cotulla

In 1928, Johnson took a break from his studies to earn more money for his college tuition. Just twenty years old at the time, Johnson spent a year teaching mathematics and history to twenty-nine fifth, sixth, and seventh graders at the C.A. Welhausen Elementary School in Cotulla, Texas. As the school’s only male teacher, Johnson was soon promoted to principal. He held this position until his return to SWTTC in 1929.

A strict authoritarian, Johnson demanded that his primarily Spanish-speaking students learn English. Yet despite his high standards and emphasis on discipline, his students adored him. One former student, Juanita Ortiz, shared her memories of Johnson. “I remember his telling us seventh graders that anybody could be anything he wanted to be if he worked hard at it. As young as he was, he was trying to teach us all he knew. He really cared.”

Presidential Remarks in Cotulla

When Johnson visited the school on November 7, 1966, he recalled that there were only “five teachers here in the Welhausen public school. We had no lunch facilities. We had no school buses. We had very little money for educating people of this community. We did not have money to buy our playground equipment, our volleyballs, our softball bat. I took my first month’s salary and invested in those things for my children.”

Johnson carried his experience in Cotulla with him for the rest of his life. His year at Welhausen, which provided him with his "first lessons in the high price we pay for poverty and prejudice," inspired his later work with civil rights and higher education opportunities for all Americans.