Book Published about Local Civil Rights Figure

A new book has been written about the life of a local civil rights icon.

The Rev. Dr. Charles Johnson was the key witness to take the stand in the trial famously dubbed by the FBI as the 'Mississippi Burning' case.

In the book, 'Called to the Fire', Johnson chronicles his experiences in Mississippi since first arriving as a young minister in 1961.

Johnson was here as part of his ministry, but readily admits that Mississippi was the last place he wanted to go.

"When I first got here I had a lot of fear because I had read so much about Mississippi," said Johnson. "But something changed me the first day that I was here."

Johnson talks about what prompted that change in the book. He says he was encouraged to tell his story, and finally he shared it with a friend in the ministry, Chet Bush, who authored the book.

One portion of the book describes the occasion when Johnson sat next to Dr. Martin Luther King in Meridian.

"He said, 'I'm tired, but I'm going on'," Johnson said.

Then, there's another part of the book which spotlights a demonstration of almost 2,000 people that Johnson led to the steps of Meridian City Hall the day after Dr. King was assassinated.

"The sprinklers were on, but that didn't stop us," said Johnson.

Having worked very closely with two of the three civil rights workers who were killed in Neshoba County in 1964, Johnson says the purpose for the book is not to create division, but instead reconciliation.

"One of the persons that had served a prison term and was sentenced came to my house after he got out of prison and he brought me a gift of some fish and a picture that he painted while he was in prison and said, 'I want to give you this'," said Johnson. "'I'm sorry for what I did; will you forgive me?' I said, 'Yes'."

Johnson said countless threats have been made against him and his family in the past. During those times he says there was one thing that helped him endure.

"See, it's God living in me; I can't do it myself," he said.

Dr. Johnson officially launched the book this week in Nashville. So far, some of the planned stops for the book tour are Jackson and Oxford, and Richmond, Virginia.

The book costs $20 and is available at Books-A-Million, The Bible Bookstore in Meridian and on