“This job has enabled this poor kid from Louisville, Kentucky who grew up down the street from Muhammad Ali to not only cover the greatest city in the world but also to see much of the world.”
The Washington Association of Black Journalists (WABJ) is deeply saddened by the passing of veteran broadcast journalist Bruce Johnson, who anchored and reported for WUSA9 for 44 years before retiring in December 2020. He was 71.
Johnson died on Sunday, his wife, Lori Smith-Johnson, shared in a Facebook post. WUSA9 reported heart failure as the cause of death.
WABJ and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library were preparing to host a conversation on Wednesday, April 6, with Johnson about his new memoir, “Surviving Deep Waters: A Legendary Reporter’s Story of Overcoming Poverty, Race, Violence, and His Mother’s Deepest Secret.” Johnson’s family has asked for privacy at this time. WABJ will honor Johnson and his legacy at a later date.
“I’m shocked and saddened by the passing of Mr. Bruce Johnson. This is a monumental loss. He was a local journalism giant and staple in the DMV area, and dedicated almost five decades as a journalist to telling compelling stories and elevating issues that are important to D.C. residents,” said WABJ President Khorri Atkinson. “We extend our sincere condolences to the Johnson family, as well as his friends, colleagues and mentees.”
During a call with Atkinson shortly after his retirement, Johnson spoke about the impact trailblazing Black D.C.-based television journalists, including Jim Vance, J.C. Hayward, Paul Berry and NABJ co-founders Maureen Bunyan and Max Robinson, had on his career when he moved to the District in March 1976.”
“I stand on the shoulders of all of those great African-American journalists who were here when I got here and showed me the way — whether they worked with me directly or were in competition,” Johnson said at the time. “This job has enabled this poor kid from Louisville, Kentucky who grew up down the street from Muhammad Ali to not only cover the greatest city in the world but also to see much of the world.”
Johnson has received many accolades for his exemplary body of work including 22 Emmy Awards, induction into the Washington, D.C. and the Society of Professional Journalists Halls of Fame, and the National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ 2018 Board of Governors Award.
In 2020, the owners of Ben’s Chili Bowl, a landmark D.C. restaurant, recognized Johnson by adding his image to a mural that includes other influential Black Americans with ties to the District, including former President Barack Obama, former first lady Michelle Obama, and the late D.C legends Chuck Brown, the godfather of go-go music, and Vance.
Johnson was the author of two other books. His first, “Heart to Heart,” chronicled his recovery from a heart attack in 1992 while on a news assignment. He also wrote an ebook, “All or Nothing, The Victor Page Story,” based on a series of exclusive interviews with one-time D.C. basketball star Victor Page, who played for the Georgetown University Hoyas and Sioux Falls Skyforce.
Johnson also was a lifetime member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.
Founded in 1975, the Washington Association of Black Journalists is an organization for African-American journalists, journalism professors, public relations professionals and student journalists in the Washington, D.C., metro area. WABJ provides members with ongoing professional education opportunities and advocates for greater diversification of the profession.