Pat Johnson

Community Activist and Organizer
Headshot of a woman.

Photo by Lauren Adams Willette


Pat Finley Johnson is a pillar to the community of Pocahontas, Arkansas, where she supports community fellowship, traditional knowledge, and Black culture and heritage. As a recipient of the 2024 NEA Bess Lomax Hawes National Heritage Fellowship, Johnson has worked tirelessly for over two decades to contribute to the preservation of local history and folklife in Randolph County, Arkansas.

Born in 1948 in Pocahontas, she has lived in Randolph County for her entire life. She attended the “Pocahontas Colored School” as a child and was a student of Eddie Mae Herron. After completing eighth grade, she was bussed with African American students from Pocahontas and other rural towns to Newport to attend high school. It was during these bus trips that she met Sherley Johnson and the two began dating. They were married in February 1966 and have two children: Jacqueline and Douglas, four granddaughters, and four great-granddaughters.

Johnson started her journey to create the Eddie Mae Herron Center in 2000 as a way for her community to gather and connect with and honor the nearly two hundred years of African American history, traditions, and culture in Randolph County. She retired in 2008 from her work with the Arkansas Health Department and the Arkansas Department of Human Services. Shortly after her retirement, Johnson began working full-time as a community activist. From the start, Johnson brought community members and institutions together to provide a foundation for this effort and form an important network of long-term supporters. She plans events that increase the vitality of the community and creates a space for public engagement and appreciation of local history and African American history. The Eddie Mae Herron Center tells the story of Randolph County through photographs, displays, books, and spoken memories of the people who grew up there, and preserves that heritage for future generations.

The Eddie Mae Herron Center’s public programs draw people together, all of which Johnson organizes and attends. The Center has annual events for Black History Month, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Juneteenth, Christmas, family reunions, and birthday parties. Johnson has organized many other events that have brought together people from the community to learn about local history and folk arts, including an annual hog butchering event which was included as part of the 2023 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. 

 Through the Eddie Mae Herron Center, Johnson has created a dynamic space for local community traditions, community fellowship and activism, a place where the performance of daily heritage is enacted regularly and safely. Johnson’s work diversifies the history of the Ozarks region and honors the evolving nature of folklife while also upholding important community traditions, folk arts, and customary knowledge.

By Lauren Adams Willette, Folk Arts Fieldwork Coordinator, Arkansas Folk and Traditional Arts

Related Audio

Discover how 2024 National Heritage Fellow Pat Johnson transformed her former segregated one-room school into a thriving center for Black history and culture and community engagement in Pocahontas, Arkansas.