Henry Madden Library is pleased to announce Frank Johnson, Sr. as our Top Dog Outstanding Alumni Award recipient this year. A 1963 graduate in education, Frank was an outstanding educator and, with his family, the founder of Grapevine Magazine, California’s first African American publication. 

Last February, Madden Library and Dean Del Hornbuckle hosted the exhibition Grapevine Magazine: African Americans in Central California, 1969–1982, highlighting the depth and breadth of the magazine’s contributions to media in the Central Valley. Johnson has graciously donated his Grapevine Magazine collection to Madden Library’s Special Collections Research Center for preservation and to provide a valuable research source for scholars of the future. 

Inspired by the United States Civil Rights Movement, the Grapevine’s mission was to start an African American publication highlighting African American achievements and contributions, past and present, made in cities throughout Central California. The publication also provided an essential medium for staff and contributing writers to express their opinions and views concerning racial injustice, discrimination, prejudice, and other issues that affected African Americans’ daily lives.

The magazine was in circulation from 1969 – 1982. 

“Grapevine Magazine was a landmark voice for Central California’s African American community. The magazine covered politics, education, entertainment, recipes and social events. But most importantly, Grapevine drove the narrative of the African American experience in the Central Valley and had the final say in what was important to that community.

That’s the powerful history of black media, amplifying voices, stories, achievements and a culture that would have otherwise been ignored and deliberately slanted. This exhibit is a historic moment for the Library and combines the rich cultural heritage of African Americans here with the sharp design and media sensibilities of a bygone era. Students, educators and the community will all find something to enjoy and learn from the work of Grapevine Magazine. We are thrilled the magazines will be preserved in our Special Collections.” -Del Hornbuckle, Dean of Library Services

Photo: Frank Johnson, Sr. (c) with his brothers and Grapevine co-founders Jerry Johnson (l) and Cleo Johnson (r)

Born in 1939, Frank Johnson, Sr. educator, author and publisher.  The sixth of ten children of Irene and Odell Johnson, Sr. Johnson was raised in Fresno, California. He attended Edison High School, Fresno City College, and Fresno State, where he graduated with a  College in 1963 with a B.A. in education. 

Johnson served the West Fresno School District as a teacher, counselor, principal, and then became the first African American school district superintendent in Central California. Between 1969 and 1982, Johnson served as publisher and editor of Grapevine Magazine, which received numerous honors for its excellence in journalism.

In 1984, Johnson wrote and published Who’s Who of Black Millionaires. Between 1992 and 2010, Johnson served as executive director of the non-profit Neighborhood Opportunities for Affordable Housing, Inc. (NOAH), which he helped found. During his tenure at NOAH, Johnson constructed, rehabilitated, and sold over 125 homes to families throughout Fresno for the City of Fresno’s First-Time Homebuyers Program.

In 2015, the African-American Historical and Cultural Museum of the San Joaquin Valley formally inducted Johnson as an Outstanding Community Leader and Trailblazer. He received certificates of recognition from the City Council of Fresno, California Senate, and Assembly. Johnson also received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition.

Johnson and his wife Betty are proud parents of two married sons, Troy ( with wife Angela) and Frank, Jr. (with wife Adrienne), four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.