Claflin Trustee and Alumnus William H. Johnson Sr. Welcomes Claflin Students Home to the New Student Center

May 07, 2024
The Johnsons- Annette and Trustee William Johnson

Each time someone walks into Claflin University's new state-of-the-art Student Center, William H. Johnson Sr. wants them to feel at home. After all, the $40 million, three-story center was built on the very site where he and his family lived during his formative years as a child growing up in Orangeburg, S.C., at 631 Goff Avenue. Trustee Johnson's home was only a few yards from Claflin University's campus. 

Trustee Johnson joined Claflin President Dr. Dwaun J. Warmack, other Board of Trustee members, elected officials, and residents of the Claflin/Orangeburg community on March 22 for a ribbon-cutting ceremony that signaled the official opening for what President Warmack described as the University's new "living room." The facility includes Orangeburg's only movie theater and the only multi-purpose conference room/ballroom in Orangeburg with seating for 800 or more guests. The center's other features include a communal retail space, eSports lab, Barnes & Noble Bookstore, a scenic outdoor terrace, administrative offices, and group study rooms. 

Johnson, a Class of 1972 alumnus, negotiated the agreement that resulted in the sale of the property to Claflin. He then funded the University's purchase of that property, facilitating the construction of the eye-catching "crown jewel" of Claflin's expanded campus landscape. 

"My connection to Claflin goes back over a very long time -- before I was in high school or college. I was born in the house on Goff Avenue that my parents rented for our family home and where the new Student Center now sits," said Johnson. During my formative years growing up on Goff Avenue, I always felt like the University's campus was a part of my playground." Claflin gave me childhood memories that I will always cherish. I attended numerous campus programs, performances, and athletic events that were open to the public." 

 The close relationship between Johnson's family and Claflin began many years before he was born. His mother, Lila McKiever Johnson, was a Claflin alumna, and two of his four siblings also had ties to the University. His sister, DeLaris Johnson Risher, taught at Claflin. His brother, the late Charles H. Johnson, was the University's Dean of Student AfƵs for nearly 20 years. Dean Johnson was also instrumental in the development and growth of Claflin's ROTC Cross-Enrollment program with South Carolina State University and served as its director for many years.

 Johnson enrolled at Claflin after serving as a photographic intelligence analyst in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War.  Like most students entering college, he experienced uncertainty about his future career path and unsure of his ability to succeed. However, when he graduated in 1972, he realized that Claflin's holistic approach to student learning and leadership development had transformed him into a young man with well-defined, high personal goals who then had the confidence and the ability to make those high aspirations a reality. 

"It was at that moment that my wife and I promised each other and committed to Claflin," said Johnson. "We agreed that when I became successful in my career, I would do whatever I could to support this University, which had given me so much."


 Johnson said he remembers how his professors, like Dr. Blinzy L. Gore and 

Mrs. Katie P. Smith challenged him in the classroom and showed genuine concern for his overall well-being. He now credits the University's rigorous academic programs and its culturally and socially diverse campus environment with helping him develop the discipline, leadership skills, and scholarship that would carry him throughout his remarkable career in law and legal afƵs.

 "Claflin gave me solid higher education experience, which formed the foundation for all my subsequent academic achievements and career success," Johnson said. 

After graduating from Duke University Law School in 1975, Johnson began 

a 39-year legal career on the regulatory side of the transportation industry when he acquired a position with the Interstate Commerce Commission's Office of Proceedings in Washington, D.C. In 1978, after gaining a certification in the Economics of Freight Transportation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he was recruited to join the staff of the United States Senate Commerce Committee. Johnson soon became lead counsel of its Surface Transportation Subcommittee. He was responsible for leading and managing the development of all surface transportation legislation originating in the Senate, including the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, which deregulated the U.S. Rail Industry.

In 1981, Johnson moved from the regulatory and legislative sides of the rail transportation industry to the private side when he accepted a position with the Consolidated Rail Corporation (CONRAIL) in Philadelphia. After obtaining a Master of Laws degree in Trial Advocacy from Temple University Law School, he was lead trial counsel on numerous high-value, complex commercial cases litigated in federal, district, and state courts. In 1997, he joined the Norfolk Southern Corporation and became its senior general attorney. 

Johnson's extraordinary career provides an impressive catalog of awards, honors, and noteworthy achievements. In addition to previously serving as a member of the Claflin University Board of Visitors and currently, as a member of the University's Board of Trustees, he has held several significant legal and community leadership positions, including president of the Barristers Association of Philadelphia and as the National Bar Association's regional director for the states of Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

 He has been listed in "Who's Who in American Law" and received official "Letters of Commendation" from former President Jimmy Carter in recognition of his impactful leadership role as counsel to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee's Surface Transportation Subcommittee.


Johnson firmly believes that his Claflin experience was as influential to his career success as was the relentless support of his biological family. 

 "I always told my wife that I felt like I had a moral obligation to Claflin," said Johnson. "When the new Student Center was proposed, I knew it could provide an additional opportunity for me to fulfill that commitment of support to Claflin I made when I graduated in 1972."

Johnson expressed his profound gratitude for all Claflin has done for him by negotiating and acquiring an agreement of sale from the property's owner and then offering to fund Claflin's purchase of that strategically located property as the site for the new Student Center.

"This contribution to Claflin represents our latest effort to meet the commitment we made in 1972 to support Claflin," Johnson said.

The Johnson's well-documented legacy of philanthropy at Claflin includes establishing The Attorney William H. and Annette B. Johnson Endowed Annual Faculty Award for Innovative Scientific Research and substantial financial support for building Claflin's Veterans' Memorial Monument, which fulfilled his brother's dream. The monument provides the history of the University's ROTC program, a biographical tribute to Charles Johnson, and the names of Claflin alumni who served in the United States military, including that of Trustee Johnson. 

 Just as Johnson said he benefitted from spending time on Claflin's vibrant and stimulating campus, he joins Warmack and other Claflin leaders in inviting residents of the Orangeburg community and neighboring counties to take advantage of what the new Student Center has to offer. 

 "The Student Center is a hub for campus and community engagement," said Warmack. "This facility was constructed to accommodate the needs of our students and the community. But it took Trustee Johnson to get us where we are now. 

During the grand opening, Warmack introduceda plaque on display in the lobby of the new Student Center, which serves as a tribute and expression of gratitude for Johnson's philanthropy and loyal support of Claflin University.

"He remained faithful to his promise and commitment to do something that would have a major impact on his Alma Mater," said Warmack. "Because of that, the Student Center will be a lasting tribute to Trustee Johnson and his wife's immense generosity."

Ribbon Cutting-Dr. Warmack, Trustee Johnson and  Board members during New Student Center Ribbon Cutting

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