Remembering Roy

Published 8:18 am Thursday, October 23, 2014

MURFREESBORO – He was, by all accounts, a “one-man show” and hailed as the “Godfather” of printed publications in the Roanoke-Chowan area.

On Saturday, Oct. 25, the life and legacy of the late F. Roy Johnson will be remembered.

Johnson – a newspaper publisher, author and folklorist of Murfreesboro – will be featured on a state historical highway marker honoring his life and work. The marker, approved earlier this year by the North Carolina State Historical Marker Commission, will be unveiled and dedicated at 11 a.m. on Saturday during a brief ceremony  in front of the Elizabeth S. Parker Library on Main Street in Murfreesboro. The public is invited.

For those wishing to learn more about Johnson’s legacy, a power point presentation on the life and work of this famous printer will be presented by E. Frank Stephenson Jr. at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 24 in Marks Hall auditorium at Chowan University.  The program is free and open to the public. For more information, call 252-398-3554.

Johnson, a native of Bladen County, NC, and a graduate of Duke University, began publishing the Surry County (Va.) Herald in 1938 in Wakefield, Va., using the equipment at the defunct SURRY HERALD.   The same year he also began publishing his first Murfreesboro, NC newspaper, THE NORTHEASTEREN NORTH CAROLINA NEWS,  from Wakefield, Va.  Roy would drive to Murfreesboro to collect news stories, sell ads, and then return to Wakefield, Va. to print the newspapers.

In August 1940, Johnson moved with his family from Wakefield, Va. to Murfreesboro to begin publishing a Murfreesboro newspaper full time. His main newspaper was the Roanoke-Chowan Daily News which he published until 1962 when he sold the publishing rights to Parker Brothers Newspapers in Ahoskie.

Later in 1962, he established Johnson Publishing Company, thus beginning a book publishing career spanning 25 years.  In 1963, Roy released his first book under the banner of Johnson Publishing Company, The Fabled Doctor Jim Jordan: A Story of Conjure.  The book told the remarkable true story of James Spurgeon Jordan, a “root” doctor residing in Como.  Dr. Jordan was infamous along the east coast of the United States for his unorthodox cures and remedies for all sorts of personal aliments.

In 1964, with the successful release of its first book, Johnson Publishing Company released The Peanut Story.  The book was well received in both sales and reviews.  The Peanut Story was followed by the release of numerous history and folklore books including Tales From Old  Carolina,  Legends and Myths of North Carolina’s Roanoke-Chowan AreaThe Nat Turner Slave Insurrection, The Tuscaroras, Witches and Demons, The Nat Turner Story, The Old South With Brer Rabbit and His Neighbors, The AlgonguiansThe Gatling Gun and Flying Machine (with Frank Stephenson), North Carolina Indian Legends, and The Lost Colony in Fact and Legend (with Thomas C. Parramore).

Johnson’s numerous awards for his books on history, people of color and folklore included the Brown Hudson State Folklore Award in 1976 from the North Carolina Folklore Society.

Johnson died at his home in Murfreesboro on Oct. 17, 1988. Lengthy notices of his death were carried widely by numerous newspapers and news outlets.  He is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Murfreesboro.