July 17, 2024

Obligate Law

Professional Law Makers

Jacksonville law firm joins fight to keep civil rights activist’s Riverside home after he faced financial hardship

3 min read
Jacksonville law firm joins fight to keep civil rights activist’s Riverside home after he faced financial hardship

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA) is working to save the Riverside home of Jacksonville golfer and civil rights activist Arthur Leroy Johnson, according to a release.

RELATED: Fight for equal rights on the greens of Jacksonville

Johnson, now 80 years old, has lived in the Riverside neighborhood for almost 40 years. In 1986, he bought a 1,100-square-foot aluminum-sided home from a woman who employed his mother as a domestic worker.

He ran into financial difficulties when prostate cancer and other health problems sidelined him from his job as director of First Tee – North Florida, which is a program that combines golf with a life-skills curriculum to mentor youth.

Johnson took out a reverse mortgage on the home, initially borrowing $24,000, according to JALA. He had trouble making needed repairs because he was living on $941 a month in Social Security. He defaulted on his reverse mortgage and ended up owing $140,000.

JALA said a reverse mortgage does put money in people’s pockets, but there are risks. JALA said homeowners frequently deal with unannounced changes in their mortgage requirements and poor loan servicing.

“The amount of Black people that have lost their property is incredible,” Johnson said. “It’s a good program, but you’ve got to stay on top of your responsibility to pay your taxes and insurance. As you get older, you’re not going to be able to keep up with that.”

Johnson had a career as a successful concert promoter and he said much of his life savings went into the 1998 Rowe Entertainment v. William Morris lawsuit that sought to stop discrimination in the music industry. The plaintiffs eventually lost.

Johnson said he learned about racial justice from his mentor and his childhood neighbor Frank Hampton, who was among four golfers whose case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to integrate Jacksonville’s golf courses in the late 1950s. Back then, Black golfers were only allowed to play one day a week at Brentwood Golf Club, the only public course at the time.

“We couldn’t even go into the clubhouse to order a hot dog or a hamburger,” Johnson said. “We had to order through a window at Brentwood. They had a special side window set up, and we would have to go to that side window. I am 80 years old, but some things I can remember like yesterday.”

He eventually attended the Professional Golfer’s Association tour qualifier school in the early 80s and played on the United Golfers Association tour in the 70s and 80s. The UGA was founded in 1925 by and for Black golfers as a parallel institution to the then all-white PGA.

Johnson will be inducted into the African American Golfers Hall of Fame in May.

He took part in local marches in the 1964 Monson Motor Lodge protest where a St. Augustine lodge owner poured muriatic acid into a pool where Black and white activists had jumped in to protest the lodge’s whites-only policy for swimmers.

“I have a long history of fighting for rights,” Johnson said, who is now fighting for his home.

JALA attorney Lynn Drysdale and JALA Housing Counselor Marissa Vetter are representing Johnson.

Vetter said she has worked to get a City of Jacksonville Foreclosure Intervention Program grant to help reduce the delinquent amount so his payments can be more manageable. The foreclosure sale date is March 19.

Vetter was able to get a check for the repayment agreement. If everything goes as planned, JALA will be able to temporarily save Johnson’s home.

A GoFundMe was launched on his behalf.

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