Influential former Texas US Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson dies at 88

DALLAS, Texas (AP) — Trailblazing longtime U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a nurse from Texas who helped bring hundreds of millions of federal dollars to the Dallas area as the region’s most powerful Democrat, died Sunday. She was 88.

President Joe Biden, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and many other leaders issued statements about her death after her son posted about it on Facebook. The Dallas Morning News also confirmed her death with an unnamed source close to the family. No cause of death was given.

Biden hailed her “immense courage” and called her “an icon and mentor to generations of public servants, through whom her legacy of resilience and purpose will endure.”

“She was the single most effective legislator Dallas has ever had,” the mayor said in a statement. “Nobody brought more federal infrastructure money home to our city. Nobody fought harder for our communities and our residents’ interests and safety. And nobody knew how to navigate Washington better for the people of Dallas.”

Eddie Bernice Johnson served in the House for three decades after becoming the first registered nurse elected to Congress and first Black chief psychiatric nurse at Dallas’ Veterans Affairs hospital. She went on to become the first Black woman to chair the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and she also led the Congressional Black Caucus. She left office in January after repeatedly delaying her retirement. Before Congress, she served in the Texas legislature.

“For three decades, Chairwoman Johnson was a powerful force in the United States Congress, always focused on the future,” House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi said in a statement, praising Johnson as “a tenacious trailblazer, a talented legislator and a devoted public servant.”

Johnson used her committee leadership position to fight against Republican efforts to block action on climate change. Congressional Black Caucus Chair Steven Horsford said Johnson was also “a fierce advocate for expanding STEM opportunities to Black and minority students” who also played a key role in helping the Biden administration pass a major package of incentives for computer chip manufacturers.

She was born in Waco and grew up in the segregated South. Dallas’ once-segregated Union Station was renamed in her honor in 2019.

Her own experience with racism helped spur her to get involved in politics. She recalled that officials at the VA hospital were shocked that she was Black after they hired her sight-unseen, so they rescinded their offer for her to live in a dorm on campus. She told The Dallas Morning News in 2020 that officials would go into patients’ rooms ahead of her to “say that I was qualified.”

“That was really the most blatant, overt racism that I ever experienced in my life,” she told the newspaper.

Johnson nearly quit but decided to stick with it.

“It was very challenging,” she said. “But any job where you’re an African American woman entering for the first time would be a challenge. They had not hired one before I got there. Yes, it was a challenge, but it was a successful venture.”

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