“The Klan came to kill me — I’ll never forget that,” Johnson said.
His immediate response was to grab all the signs and put them up on his back porch. Johnson then took to the streets to join in.
He said nerves welled up inside, knowing the cost of each step could be his life. He said he prayed the Lord would give him just another hour to march in peace.
The protest — held in 1968 — was not the last time Johnson risked his life. He wore a bulletproof vest his first year in office in 1989. In 1995, a landowner frustrated about land negotiations came into his office intending to murder him. The landowner saw that Johnson used a walking stick, and assuming he was disabled, decided not to kill him.
Johnson has continued to protest for equal rights for segregated businesses and schools in Hillsborough throughout his life.
“I hadn’t planned to get into civil rights, I was predestined to do what I did,” he said.
Hillsborough and Carrboro celebrated Horace Johnson Day on Feb. 4 to honor his role as a community activist and Free Spirit Freedom, a cultural arts nonprofit, held a tribute to him.
“We try to highlight these unsung heros of Orange County,” said Renee Price, an Orange County Commissioner and co-founder of Free Spirit Freedom.