LeAnna Johnson turns 100 in Oxford

Photo by Marcella Peyre-Ferry LeAnna celebrates her 100th birthday in Oxford last week.

OXFORD -- On Sept. 13, Oxford resident LeAnna Cornish Nelson Johnson marked her 100th birthday. Born LeAnna Mae Cornish, on a Friday the 13th, she bucks the superstitions. 'I'm still here. I didn't have too bad of luck,' she smiled.

Mrs. Johnson had an aunt who also lived to be over 100 years old, but other family members were taken early by cancer. 'The Lord has put a good immune system in me. I've survived childhood diseases, I've survived operation, I've survived raising two sons and married two men,' she said.

Mrs. Johnson's sons, 'Berkie' Nelson and Robert Nelson still reside in the area, plus she has four grandchildren and great grandchildren as well. They helped celebrate her century birthday during a party for her at her home at Steward Place and a party from her church, Oxford Second Presbyterian.

Mrs. Johnson was born in a Philadelphia hospital and spent her first nine years in Hockessin, Del. She moved with her family to Media, Delaware County, and attended Media elementary and high schools. 'Then my mother sent me to Cheyney for teachers college,' she said. 'I did teach in Maryland elementary schools for just a couple of years, but didn't teach any more after I married.'

Mrs. Johnson was first a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in St. Mary's County, Md. Her students did so well she was promoted to a two-room schoolhouse in St. Georges. 'I don't think I was meant to be a teacher. I love children, but I just didn't feel I could spend my life teaching if I didn't get more education,' she said.

When she married her first husband, Horatio Viscount Nelson, Mrs. Johnson moved with him to Oxford, to the home his family had since 1900. 'I didn't like Oxford when I first came here. Now I wouldn't want to live anywhere else,' she said.

When she moved to Oxford, Mrs. Johnson applied to teach but was not considered. 'Women of color all scrubbed floors or cleaned houses,' she said.

On the recommendation of Dr. Guy Holcomb, she obtained an interview to work at Lincoln University. After learning to type she was hired, and was employed there as the secretary to several university presidents beginning with Dr. Horace Mann Bond, for the next 30 years.

Mrs. Johnson has seen great changes in the world over her lifetime, and changes in race relations and the need for more. 'It isn't better. Prejudice is still alive, not so much for ordinary people but it's in the government,' she said. 'Up until Roosevelt, presidents didn't consider us as human being. It existed then and still exists. Ever since Obama got in the chair, Congress has made up their mind they are not going to consider any of his policies.'

Mrs. Johnson never thought that she would see a black president. 'I feel so blessed the president and Mrs. Obama have sent me a letter congratulating me on my 100th birthday,' she said. 'I think presidents send letters to people over 100 no matter what their political affiliation, but it's a piece of history for me and my grandchildren.'

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