By Kelly Baughman
Most people who have nestled their toes in the silky white sands of Johnsons Beach in Perdido Key know that it is one of the most beautiful beaches the eyes have ever seen, but Betcha Didn’t Know that its namesake is a true hero.
Private Rosamond Johnson, Jr. joined the military when he was just 15 years old. A man devoted to his country, Johnson took pride in heading off to war when the Korean conflict broke out. While there, Johnsons platoon came under fire. Having carried two wounded men to safety under enemy attack, he was killed going back to save a third, becoming the first Escambia County resident to die in the conflict. He was just 17.
Johnson posthumously received the Purple Heart on August 21, 1950, and veteran groups continue their efforts to this day to seek additional military honors for him.
During Johnson’s time, segregation was a common practice in the Pensacola area. Jim Crow laws forbid minorities to share Pensacola Beach. The west Pensacola beach, now known as Johnson’s Beach, that had been a favored recreational area set aside for the “sole use and enjoyment of colored citizens” in the 1950’s became part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore in the 1970’s and retains Rosamond Johnson’s name. A permanent monument in Johnson’s honor was erected at Johnson Beach on June 10, 1996.
Mrs. Alice Johnson, Rosamond’s mother, still resides in the family home in the historic Belmont/Devilliers area of Pensacola. His 6 siblings, all living, are also valued members of the Pensacola community.
Rosamond Johnson Jr. is buried at the Barrancas National Cemetery located at Pensacola NAS. Each year on both the anniversary of his birth and death, many gather at his grave to pay homage and give thanks to the man who still stands as an important military hero and a revered figure of civil rights in the Pensacola and Perdido Key communities.
Each year in May, Rosamond Johnson Jr. is honored with a ceremony on the beach that bears his namesake. This year’s ceremony, held on May, 4, 2019, the Perdido Key area community joined members of the Johnson family by honoring Johnson’s memory and the sacrifices he made serving his country. The NATTC Color Guard, vocalist group and a bugler performed during the ceremony. This special ceremony was made possible by the support of the Perdido Key Area Chamber of Commerce, Johnson Beach Society and Florida Black Chamber of Commerce.
Today, Johnsons Beach is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and stands as a living memorial to a hero who gave his own young life to save the lives of others, regardless of color. His bravery and selflessness is an example to all those who visit the shores that keep his name more than just a memory in the history books.
For details or more information about Rosamond Johnson Jr. or Johnsons Beach, contact the Perdido Key Visitors Center, at 850-492-4660 or www.VisitPerdido.com.